Kim Jong UkSouth Korean Baptist missionary Kim Jong Uk (58) was arrested in North Korea in October 2013 after entering the country with religious materials. In May 2014, he was sentenced to life imprisonment in labour camp.

Before his arrest, Kim Jong Uk (also known as Kim Jung-Wook) worked for seven years in the Chinese port city of Dandong, near the border with North Korea, providing shelter, food and other aid to North Korean refugees and teaching them from the Bible. He reportedly helped some North Korean defectors get to South Korea.

North Korean agents infiltrated his network and convinced him to go into North Korea to find out what had happened to some refugees with whom he had lost contact – according to a Baptist friend in Seoul, Joo Dong-sik, in August 2012 the Chinese authorities had caught a group of twelve North Korean women at Kim Jong Uk’s shelter and repatriated them.

Missionary Kim went in on 7 October 2013 with Bibles and other religious materials, and on 8 October he was arrested and interrogated. He was charged with attempting to overthrow the regime and spying for South Korea.

In February 2014, he appeared before North Korean media to read a statement apologising for “anti-state crimes”. He said he had spied for the South Korean government, acting under directions from South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS – which, he said, paid him several thousand dollars) and that he had set up an underground church in Dandong to collect information from members on life in North Korea for the NIS. South Korea’s National Intelligence Service has repeatedly stated that Kim Jong Uk was not its agent.

Missionary Kim said he had given money to North Koreans to set up five hundred underground churches and to attempt to overthrow the North Korean regime, and stated, “I was thinking of turning North Korea into a religious country, and destroying its present government and political system.”

The government’s broadcast of the news conference, shown repeatedly on North Korea’s one TV channel, featured a North Korean woman (with her face blocked), who purportedly lured Missionary Kim into North Korea. She had been in his discipleship programme and had allegedly gone back and forth between North Korea and China gathering information and taking pictures for him. She told Missionary Kim that if he had money he could build churches in North Korea and said her brother was a high level government official and could help them to pass all guard posts on the way to Pyongyang within a day. However, they had not got far into North Korea when the police caught Missionary Kim. The woman admitted that she had deceived Missionary Kim and that she wanted money to start a restaurant in North Korea.

On 30 May 2014, the Supreme Court tried Missionary Kim, found him guilty of spying and attempting to set up an underground church, and sentenced him to life imprisonment in labour camp. After the trial, North Korea’s state news agency KCNA said the defendant confessed to the crimes. The agency reported that prosecutors had sought the death penalty but that the court imposed the life sentence after he had “sincerely repented”.

The authorities tracked down 33 North Korean women who had been trained by Missionary Kim in China and sent them all to labour camp. It was widely reported that the women had been accused of trying to overthrow the North Korean regime by working with Missionary Kim to set up five hundred churches and that they were to be executed in a cell at the State Security Department, but this has never been confirmed.

South Korean government promises compensation

On 2 November 2023 South Korea’s Unification Ministry published a press release titled “Families of detainees in North Korea to be recognised as victims of abduction and receive consolation money” in which it said that the government of the Republic of Korea would compensate family members of the six citizens detained in DPRK (North Korea). The ministry stated, “We hope that this will provide comfort and assistance to the families of detainees in North Korea”, while conceding that the government’s efforts “toward the families of the victims to relieve their pain and provide protection may not have been sufficient”.

Referring to the six detainees, who include “missionaries” Kim Jong Uk and Kim Kuk-gi, both charged with spying by the DPRK, the press release stated, “The North has sentenced our people to severe punishments and refused to provide even minimal information on confirming the life or death of those who had helped the under-privileged in North Korea… The Ministry of Unification took another substantial step by recognising the families of detainees in North Korea as victims of abduction, and conducted consultations and legal reviews with the relevant ministries to provide consolation money. On November 2, the Deliberative Committee on Compensation and Assistance to Victims of Abduction by North Korea held a meeting during which it decided to provide consolation money to victims, in accordance with Article 6 of the Act on Compensation and Assistance to Victims of Abduction by North Korea after Conclusion of the Military Armistice Agreement.”

Eric Foley, CEO of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, told NK News that while the compensation will do little to quell the concerns of the families, as they are only focused on the return of their loved ones, the compensation does reflect a renewed commitment to securing the detainees’ return and “can be received as a welcome sign”.

The amount of compensation, which ranges from 15 million to 20 million Korean won (€10,500 to €14,000) per family, is calculated by multiplying the monthly minimum wage by the period of abduction, with a ceiling of 36 times the monthly minimum wage at the time of the payment decision.


7 October 2013 Missionary Kim Jong Uk went into North Korea from China, with religious materials.

8 October 2013 He was arrested and interrogated.

27 February 2014 Missionary Kim appeared before North Korean media to read a statement apologising for “anti-state crimes”.

30 May 2014 The Supreme Court tried Missionary Kim and found him guilty of spying and attempting to set up an underground church, and sentenced him to life imprisonment in labour camp.

2 February 2023 The families of South Korean detainees in North Korea met the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea, Elizabeth Salmon, and family members of Kim Jong Uk and Kim Kuk-gi urged the UN to step up efforts for their repatriation. Kim Jong Uk’s elder brother Kim Jeong-sam said he gave a letter to the Rapporteur in which he pleaded for repatriation this year on the 70th anniversary of the armistice that halted the 1950-53 Korean War. He said she vowed to put her utmost efforts into bringing back the abductees.

2 November 2023 South Korea’s Unification Ministry issued a press release stating that families of detainees in North Korea including Kim Jong Uk and Kim Kuk-gi would receive compensation payments in recognition of their status as victims of abduction.

Read more about the persecution of Christians in North Korea.

(Chosun IlboCNN, Guardian, New York Daily Times, New York Times, NK News, Release International, Voice of the Martyrs Korea, World Watch Monitor, Yonhap News Agency)

Photo Credit: Voice of the Martyrs Korea