A Korean-American citizen, who teaches at a university outside North Korea’s capital that’s funded by evangelical Christians, was reportedly detained as he attempted to leave the reclusive state.
Tony Kim, who also goes by his Korean name Kim Sang-duk, was detained by North Korean officials at Pyongyang International Airport on Saturday morning local time, after having spent a month teaching an accounting course at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), the university’s chancellor, Chan-Mo-Park, told Reuters.
The arrest was “related to an investigation into matters that are not connected in any way to PUST,” according to a statement by the university.
“The cause of his arrest is not known but some officials at PUST told me his arrest was not related to his work at PUST. He had been involved with some other activities outside PUST such as helping an orphanage,” Park told Reuters on Sunday. “I sincerely hope and pray that he will be released soon.”
The privately-funded university, which is located in the countryside outside of Pyongyang, was founded by evangelical Christians and opened in 2010. Its students are typically the children of the country’s elite and many of its volunteer faculty are evangelical Christians. The curriculum includes subjects once deemed taboo in North Korea, such as capitalism.
Kim, who is believed to be in his 50s, is the third known U.S. citizen to be held by North Korea.
Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student, was detained in January last year and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor by a North Korean court for allegedly trying to steal a propaganda banner. Kim Dong Chul, a 62-year-old Korean-American missionary, was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor for subversion in March last year.
North Korea is also holding Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim, who was charged with subversion last year and is serving a life sentence of hard labor.
Open Doors USA, a nonprofit organization supported persecuted Christians around the globe, has repeatedly ranked North Korea as the most oppressive place in the world for Christians on its “World Watch List.” The country has a small community of Christians, but it is a secular state where public display of religion is discouraged.
Between 50,000 and 70,000 Christians are suffering in North Korean labor camps, according to Open Doors USA.
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