Tony Kim, Kim Hak-Song and Kim Dong-Chul, the Americans who were North Korean prisoners, are back on American soil. They were each incarcerated for periods ranging from one to two years.
The men arrived safely and were greeted by President Donald Trump, his wife, Melania, Vice President Mike Pence, his wife, Karen, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who traveled to North Korea to secure the men’s release.
“Looking forward to greeting the Hostages (no longer) at 2:00 A.M.,” President Donald Trump tweeted. The three freed Americans released a statement praising the United States. “We would like to express our deep appreciation to the United States government, President Trump, Secretary Pompeo, and the people of the United States for bringing us home. We thank God, and all of our families and friends who prayed for us and for our return. God Bless America, the greatest nation in the world.”
According to The Associated Press, North Korea accused the men of “anti-state activities” but their imprisonment was widely considered to be politically motivated.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Tony Kim Is a Professor Who Was Teaching in North Korea
Tony Kim also goes by the name Kim Sang Duk. He was detained while working as a teacher at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), which, according to CNN, “bills itself as the only privately run university in the North Korean capital.” He taught accounting and business at the school, CNN reported.
“We are very grateful for the release of our husband and father, Tony Kim, and the other two American detainees. We want to thank all of those who have worked toward and contributed to his return home. We also want to thank the President for engaging directly with North Korea. Mostly, we thank God for Tony’s safe return,” Tony Kim’s family said in a May 9, 2018 statement.
“We appreciate all of the support and prayers of friends and even strangers during this challenging year. You are dear to our hearts. We ask that you continue to pray for the people of North Korea and for the release of all who are still being held. Thank you.”
His son had released a video asking for his father’s release.
An older Facebook page in Tony Kim’s name said he studied at University of California, Riverside and at Aurora University. Before his father was released, Tony Kim’s son, Sol Kim, wrote on Facebook, “My family and I appreciate the ongoing support for the release of the 3 Americans (#USA3) detained in North Korea including my dad, Tony Kim. We are hopeful but we have no indication that they have been released. Thank you for your continued prayers and efforts to help bring them home. We look forward to all of the families being reunited very soon.”
2. Kim Hak-Song Is an Agricultural Expert & Teacher
According to CNN, Kim Hak-song worked at the same university as Tony Kim and was trying to help the North Koreans grow food.
He is “an agricultural expert who’d been teaching rice-growing at the university,” the network reported. According to ABC 13, Hak-Song “worked on an experimental farm run by the university.”
According to USA Today, “Kim is an ethnic Korean born in China. He studied in California and became a U.S. citizen in the 2000s but never forgot his roots.” His friend, David Kim, told CNN: “He was a very diligent, hardworking man determined to help people in North Korea.”
3. Kim Dong-Chul Formerly Lived in Virginia & Served the Longest Prison Term
Kim Dong-Chul is a U.S. citizen who was born in South Korea and was imprisoned for the longest time period of the three men.
“The former Virginia resident was sentenced in April 2016 to 10 years in prison with hard labor after being convicted of espionage. He reportedly ran a trade and hotel service company in Rason, a special economic zone on North Korea’s border with Russia,” reported AP.
According to Sky News, in March 2016, “he appeared at a government-arranged news conference in Pyongyang and ‘apologised for trying to steal military secrets in collusion with South Koreans.’ South Korea denied any involvement.”
Sky News reports that he is a naturalized citizen who “had been living in China with his wife up until his imprisonment. He owned a business in Rason, a special economic zone of North Korea, but was accused of espionage.”
4. The School Where Two of the Men Worked Praised Their Contributions
The university where two of the men worked released a statement praising the release.
“The leadership and the whole international faculty and community at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) are very grateful to learn of the release of the three US Korean citizens who have been in detention in the DPR Korea. We are especially pleased by the release of our two-co-workers, Kim Sang-duk (Tony Kim) and Kim Hak-song,” the university stated in a news release.
“We apprecated the contributions that Tony and Hak-song made to teaching and development work at PUST. All three men have been daily in our thoughts and our hopes and prayers have been fulfilled by their release. On behalf of the PUST community, the leadership wants to express our sincere hope that our two co-workers and Mr. Kim Dong-chul can now enjoy some peace and rest with their families and friends; and begin to rebuild normal life.”
5. North Korea Released a Statement Praising Mike Pompeo & Donald Trump
North Korea released a photo of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with Kim Jong-Un along with a glowing statement praising Pompeo and President Trump.
A dispatch from the North Korean government stated that Kim Jong Un “warmly greeted Mike Pompeo and sincerely congratulated him on his recent official assumption as secretary of State…Mike Pompeo expressed thanks to Kim Jong Un for sparing time to meet him, saying that he came to the DPRK to personally convey the verbal message of the U.S. president and prepare the DPRK-U.S. summit…After hearing the verbal message, Kim Jong Un expressed thanks, highly appreciating that the U.S. president has shown deep interest in settling the issue through dialogue.”
Of course, not every American was returned to U.S. soil in good shape. Many remember the story of Otto Warmbier, the American college student who was arrested and subjected to a show trial for taking a propaganda poster while on a North Korean tour; he was returned to his parents in a vegetative state and died almost immediately thereafter.
His parents described the Ohioan as “a warm, engaging, brilliant young man whose curiosity and enthusiasm for life knew no bounds.”