Kim Dong Chul (64) is a missionary who was born in South Korea and is a naturalised US citizen. He was arrested in North Korea in October 2015 and is serving a ten-year sentence in labour camp for alleged “unpardonable espionage”.
LATEST NEWS (10 May 2018): Kim Dong Chul was released on 9 May, along with US citizens Kim Hak-song and Kim Sang-duk (also known as Tony Kim), who had also been detained in North Korea. They flew to the US with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had been visiting Pyongyang to arrange a meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un, and were met by President Trump at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington. The White House said the prisoners had been freed as a gesture of goodwill ahead of the planned meeting.
Kim moved to the US in 1972, gained citizenship in 1987 and lived in Fairfax, Virginia. In 1997, he moved to China and set up a business in Pyongyang. In 2001, he moved to Yanji, a Chinese city 10 km from the North Korean border that acts as a trade hub between the two countries. He set up an international trade and hotel services company named Dongmyong in Rason City (a special economic zone on the North Korean side of the border) and commuted there daily.
When Kim gave an interview to CNN in the presence of security guards in January 2016, North Korean defector Ma Young-ae, a missionary in New York, recognised him on television as a missionary she had met in 2007. She said he told her he was sending medical aid into North Korea and going in and out of Rason City. A pastor named Simon Park also recognised Kim and said he had accompanied Ma Young-ae and Kim to several church meetings in the US and that Kim frequently visited North Korea.
Kim has a wife and two daughters in Yanji, China. They are not permitted to visit him in the labour camp.
October 2015 Kim was arrested in Rason City and accused of stealing information and passing it to South Korea. The authorities said he had a USB stick containing military and nuclear secrets.
January 2016 In an interview with CNN in the presence of security guards, Kim said he had spied for South Korea. He said: “I was tasked with taking photos of military secrets and ‘scandalous’ scenes.” He named several South Koreans who “injected me with a hatred towards North Korea. They asked me to help destroy the system and spread propaganda against the government.” Asked about the similarity of his statements to North Korean propaganda and whether they had been scripted, he said that they had not. He appeared healthy and said he was getting three meals a day. In North Korea, forced confessions by foreign prisoners are common.
March 2016 At a press conference in Pyongyang, Kim again apparently confessed, telling reporters he had been paid by South Korean intelligence officers and that he had been introduced to them by US intelligence. However, South Korean intelligence told western news agencies that Kim was not on its payroll.
29 April 2016 North Korea’s Supreme Court sentenced Kim to ten years of hard labour for subversion of the DPRK social system and espionage activities.
20 June 2016 North Korea issued a statement via state news agency KCNA warning that freed US-South Korean missionary Kenneth Bae’s “babbling” about prison could jeopardise efforts to free detained Americans. Kenneth Bae, another American Christian originally from South Korea, was detained in North Korea for two years for “hostile acts to bring down the government” and was released in November 2014. He wrote a book about his experience in the North Korean prison and has given media interviews describing how he was treated. The statement warned, “As long as Kenneth Bae continues his babbling, we will not proceed with any compromise or negotiations with the United States on the subject of American criminals. And there will certainly not be any such thing as humanitarian action.“
3 May 2018 It was reported that Kim had been moved from labour camp to a Pyongyang hotel, along with two US academics imprisoned for “hostile acts” and “espionage”, and that they were receiving “health treatment” and “ideological education”. It was hoped that this move was intended to prepare them for release as a goodwill gesture prior to the planned summit between Kim Jong-un and President Trump.
9 May 2018 Kim Dong Chul was released, along with US citizens Kim Hak-song and Kim Sang-duk (also known as Tony Kim), who had also been detained in North Korea. They flew to the US with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had been visiting Pyongyang to arrange a meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un, and were met by President Trump at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington. The White House said the prisoners had been freed as a gesture of goodwill ahead of the planned meeting.
(BBC, Christian Daily, Christian Today, CNN, Guardian, International Business Times, Reuters, Voice of America)