Update May 9, 2018
President Trump said today the three American men who have been detained in North Korea are on their way home with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
When the three men boarded Pompeo’s plane they handed him this note:
In a tweet, the president wrote, “I am pleased to inform you that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the air and on his way back from North Korea with the 3 wonderful gentlemen that everyone is looking so forward to meeting. They seem to be in good health. Also, good meeting with Kim Jong Un. Date & Place set.”
Pompeo and the three Americans are expected to arrive in Washington at 2 a.m. Thursday, according to the president, who says he will be there to greet them.
Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, said in a statement Wednesday that the president “appreciates leader Kim Jong Un’s action to release these American citizens, and views this as a positive gesture of goodwill. The three Americans appear to be in good condition and were all able to walk on the plane without assistance. All Americans look forward to welcoming them home and to seeing them reunited with their loved ones.”
Reports indicate North Korea recently moved three American hostages from brutal prison camps to a hotel outside of Pyongyang. If true, it’s a strong signal that the detainees may be reunited with their families very soon.
The hostages are Tony Kim, Kim Hak-song and Kim Dong-chul, all three are Christians who were doing missionary work alongside their regular occupations when they were arrested on a variety of alleged anti-state crimes, despite the fact that they appear to have journeyed to the diplomatically isolated nation to improve conditions for its 25 million citizens.
They all faced the same fate: years behind bars.
These are the North Korean hostages
Tony Kim was detained at the Pyongyang airport in April 2017 as he was set to depart the country. He subsequently was accused of “hostile acts.” Kim had spent a month teaching accounting at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology and most recently had been living in North Korea with his wife, still believed to be there. He supposedly had been volunteering at an orphanage. The university is funded largely by evangelical Christians from the United States and China.
Kim Hak-song had previously described himself as a Christian missionary who intended to start an experimental farm at PUST, Reuters news agency reported, citing an online post by Mr Kim.
PUST is a university that mostly teaches the children of North Korea’s elite.
It was founded in 2010 by a Korean-American Christian entrepreneur, with much of the costs funded by U.S. and South Korea Christian charities.
Kim Hak-Song was accused of “hostile acts” in May 2017. He had been doing agricultural development work at the research farm of Pyongyang University of Science and Technology and was living in Pyongyang.
Kim Dong Chul told Reuters a the time of his arrest in 2016 that he is a Christian pastor who had worked in China and the United States. A North Korean defector, Ma Young-ae, told Reuters that she had met Kim in the United States and he had told church gatherings he was a missionary helping North Koreans.
“He told the churches that he was a missionary working on North Korea and sending stuff from China into the North to help poor North Koreans,” Ma told Reuters by telephone, recalling Kim making speeches around California and Virginia in 2007 and seeking donations.
CNN reported that it had been given access to a man claiming to be Kim Dong Chul who said he had been arrested on spying charges.
Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has been working for years to gain the release of American hostages in North Korea. He told Vox he believes the potential releases could be in exchange for the upcoming summit with President Donald Trump.
“This is a case where Secretary of State Mike Pompeo probably said to the North Korean leader, ‘Look, you’ve got to release these three Americans before the summit.’ And apparently, that’s what’s going to happen.
“In this case, there is quid pro quo except that Pyongyang is getting a summit with the president, which they’ve always wanted. The North Koreans always want to negotiate tensions with the United States directly—not with China, South Korea or Japan.
“But the trumped-up charges on these three men are really out of control. They’re not, in my judgment, done in good faith. These were Americans that were either teaching or doing business in North Korea, and they’ve been accused of hostile acts.
“The reason they’ve been accused is because the North Koreans see them as a potential bargaining chip to trade in for the future. My hope is that during the summit with the North Koreans, the president makes it clear that the U.S. won’t tolerate the detaining of Americans anymore.”
Open Doors ranked North Korea number 1 on this year’s World Watch List of Christian persecution. In its report, Open Doors says, “Christians are seen as hostile elements in society which have to be eradicated.” Due to the constant indoctrination permeating the whole country, neighbors and even family members are highly watchful and report anything suspicious to the authorities.”