Hope fades for release of U.S. citizens held in N. Korea

North Korea detained another American last week, adding to the escalating tension between the rogue country and the United States.

The arrest of Tony Kim, 58, brought the number of U.S. citizens imprisoned in North Korea to three.

Kim, a Korean-American professor, taught accounting for a month at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology and worked on aid and relief programs for North Korea before he was apprehended at Pyongyang International Airport as he was preparing to leave the country.

In similar incidents that have occurred in the past, North Korea has freed detained American citizens rather quickly, sometimes following a visit from a U.S. official who would personally negotiate for the release of American citizens.

Activists and U.S. government officials have campaigned for the release of the three U.S.-citizen prisoners held in North Korea with no success—particularly in light of the deteriorating relations between Washington and Pyongyang and North Korea’s continued missiles tests and nuclear weapon refinement.

The three American citizens who are detained in North Korea are Tony Kim, Otto Warmbier, and Kim Dong Chul.

According to the chancellor of Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, Park Chan-mo, Tony Kim, who also goes by his Korean name Kim Sang-duk, was detained as he and his wife prepared to take a flight to China.

Park was informed that Kim’s apprehension had “nothing to do” with his work at the university, but further details were not revealed to him.

Fox News reports that “Kim previously taught Korean at the Yanbian University of Science and Technology in Yanji, China, not far from the North Korea border.”

North Korea’s official media has remained silent regarding Kim’s detainment.

Otto Warmbier, a 21-year-old University of Virginia undergraduate student from Ohio, was visiting North Korea as a tourist with Young Pioneer Tours when he was detained on January 2, 2016, at Pyongyang International Airport.

Warmbier faced charges of “crimes against the state” for stealing a political sign from a staff-only floor in the Yanggakdo International Hotel in Pyongyang. He was allowed a one-hour trial last March in which he was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

Little is known about Warmbier’s current condition since U.S. emissaries in North Korea have not been allowed to visit him for more than a year.

Kim Dong Chul, a former Virginia resident, was detained in North Korea in October 2015 on suspicion of spying and stealing state secrets. Following a brief trial, he was found guilty of espionage and subversion and sentenced to 10 years in prison with hard labor.

Last March, Kim Dong Chul was allowed to be interviewed by the media and claimed that he had collaborated with and spied for South Korea, although its National Intelligence Service has insisted that Kim was not involved with the agency.

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