Kim Sang Dok, a U.S. citizen known also by his American name Tony Kim, is under arrest in North Korea for “committing criminal acts of hostility aimed to overturn the DPRK not only in the past but also during his last stay before interception,” according to an official statement by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
KCNA is the official state-run news outlet of the communist Pyongyang regime. The KCNA statement did not specify what acts Kim had committed during his stay in North Korea to stand accused of attempting to overthrow the regime of dictator Kim Jong-un.
Tony Kim had spent time in North Korea teaching at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), a university funded by Evangelical Christians. While Christian worship is strictly prohibited by North Korean law, and North Korean citizens face the death penalty for open worship, the Kim regime tolerates the PUST because it provides much-needed advanced education to the nation’s elites. Kim had reportedly taught accounting at the university. In a statement to Reuters, the PUST said officials did not believe that his arrest was related to any activity he undertook at the university.
North Korean police arrested Kim at the Pyongyang airport on April 22 before he could leave the country. He had taught at PUST for “weeks,” according to the university in a statement following his arrest and had previously taught accounting in China.
Kim is the third American citizen known to be under North Korean detention. Last year, North Korean authorities arrested U.S. citizen Kim Dong Chul, accused of photographing sensitive military locations and entering the country with the intent to gather intelligence for America. Pyongyang forced Kim to perform in a staged press conference in which he admitted to “espionage” and blamed the United States for his “anti-North Korean behavior.”
“I’m asking the U.S. or South Korean government to rescue me,” Kim said in the press conference. North Korea often uses prisoners to demand ransom from the United States for them.
Last year, North Korea announced that it had sentenced American citizen Otto Warmbier to fifteen years of hard labor for allegedly “hostile acts” against the North Korean regime. In a staged press conference, Warmbier admitted to ripping down a pro-Kim poster at the hotel he was staying. Warmbier was in the country as a tourist.
Warmbier’s parents, Fred and Cindy, told Fox News this week that the Obama administration had urged them “to keep quiet” about their son in an attempt to keep North Korea’s agitation with the United States at minimal levels. Now that President Donald Trump has assumed office, the Warmbiers say they want to “make sure that Otto is included in any dialogue or diplomacy with North Korea.” Otto’s mother Cindy Warmbier added that Trump was “doing a great job” and expressed gratitude for his attention to the issue.
At least two American citizens imprisoned abroad have been released since Trump took office in January: Aya Hijazi, a charity worker imprisoned in Egypt; and Sandy Phan-Gillis, who was abruptly “deported” this week after being imprisoned for allegedly spying on behalf of the United States in 2015.