North Korean news agency KCNA reports that the country has detained another American for “hostile acts” against the state.
Kim Hak Song, who worked for the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, was taken into custody on Saturday. No details were given regarding his supposed crimes.
Kim is the fourth American to be taken hostage by North Korea and the second from the same university.
“A relevant institution of the DPRK detained American citizen Kim Hak Song on May 6 under a law of the DPRK on suspension of his hostile acts against it,” KCNA said. DPRK is short for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s official name.
A third U.S. citizen, Kim Sang Dok, who was associated with the same school, was detained in late April for hostile acts, according to the North’s official media.
The U.S. State Department said it is aware of the latest reported detention.
“The security of U.S. citizens is one of the department’s highest priorities. When a U.S. citizen is reported to be detained in North Korea, we work with the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang,” a State Department official said in an emailed statement, declining to provide further details for privacy reasons.
The reported detention comes as tensions on the Korean peninsula run high, driven by harsh rhetoric from Pyongyang and Washington over the North’s pursuit of nuclear weapons in response to what it says is a threat of U.S.-instigated war.
The Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) was founded by evangelical Christians and opened in 2010. Its students are generally children of the country’s elite.
The volunteer faculty of PUST, many of whom are evangelical Christians, has a curriculum that includes subjects once considered taboo in North Korea, such as capitalism. The college is an unlikely fit in a country that has been condemned by the United States for cracking down on freedom of religion.
A message by Kim Hak Song dated February 2015 on the website of a Korean-Brazilian church in Sao Paulo said he was a Christian missionary planning to start an experimental farm at PUST and was trying to help the North Korean people learn to become self-sufficient.
No doubt the North Koreans define “hostile act” differently than you or I. For example, 22-year-old American Otto Warmbier was on a guided tour of North Korea when he tried to take a sign with political writing from his hotel. He was caught, tried, and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
Another American, Tony Kim, also taught at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology and was arrested for trying to “overturn” the regime. The president of the university says Kim was trying to help an orphanage. He awaits trial.
The fourth American held is Kim Dong Chul, a Christian missionary who “confessed” to espionage and is serving 10 years in prison.
Kim becomes the second American taken in two months. Some have speculated that Kim wants to use the Americans as human shields to protect himself from American attack.
If experience is any guide, those Americans are going to be held for a long time.