PYONGYANG — An American being held in North Korea on espionage charges is a Christian missionary who was working in the nation to help the poor, reports state.
The man, who served as a pastor in Fairfax, Virginia before moving to Yanji, China, was identified as Kim Dong-chul, 60.
“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,” fellow missionary Ma Young-ae, who said she spoke to Dong-chul in 2007, told Reuters on Tuesday. “I was shocked to see his face on TV.”
She said that Dong-chul traveled to various states to raise funds for his humanitarian work, speaking at various churches in New York, California and Washington, D.C., as he focused on delivering medical supplies to the needy. Young-ae said that Dong-chul had invited her to join him on a missions trip to China, but she declined.
Dong-chul spoke to CNN reporter Will Ripley on Monday, stating that he has been detained since October. He said that he had been spying since 2013 on behalf of “South Korean conservative elements,” and was “tasked with taking photos of military secrets and ‘scandalous’ scenes.” However, as he was flanked by North Korean officials, there is doubt over whether he spoke truthfully or if his speech was forced.
Dong-chul called upon the United States and South Korea to work toward his release.
“I’m asking the U.S. or South Korean government to rescue me,” he said.
The U.S. State Department has declined to speak about his arrest at this time.
Just last month, North Korean officials sentenced South Korea-born Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim to hard labor for life on alleged “subversion” charges. The prosecution initially sought the death penalty against the pastor, but his attorneys asked for mercy “so that he can witness for himself the reality of the nation of the Sun as it grows in power and prosperity.”
Lim’s church, the 3,000-member Light Korean Presbyterian Church, told Reuters that the pastor had visited North Korea more than 100 times over the past decade and helped open an orphanage and nursing home in the nation.
As previously reported, in 2014, American missionary Kenneth Bae of Washington State was freed after initially being sentenced to 15 years hard labor for alleged “hostile [and religious] acts to bring down the government.” The case made national headlines and resulted in a personal trip to the nation by U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.