Arrested for ‘Proselytizing?’ Man Joins History of Americans Detained in North Korea

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Il

An American man is being held in North Korea. Good thing Jimmy Carter’s got a trip planned.

North Korean officials confirmed Thursday that the country is holding an American man for an unspecified crime. Jun Young Su, a Korean-American businessman in his sixties, has been held since last November, says the Korean Central News Agency. According to the state broadcaster, Washington has been alerted about the situation and Jun is being provided with necessary humanitarian conveniences. As the U.S. has no official diplomatic ties with the country, Jun is said to be in contact with the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang which handles diplomatic matters on behalf of the U.S..

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South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported Thursday that Jun is being held for allegedly proselytizing. Although Christianity is technically allowed in the hermit kingdom, religion is heavily regulated. Over the years, North Korea has arrested a number of Christian Americans accused of proselytizing and or spying:

August 2010: Aijalon Gomes, a former schoolteacher in South Korea, was sentenced to eight years hard labor for crossing illegally into North Korea from China and was detained for 7-months. He eventually was released into the custody of Jimmy Carter, former U.S. president, in August 2010.

February 2010: On Christmas Day 2009, Park walked into the communist country to draw attention to the regime’s human rights abuses and call for the resignation of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Park was released in February 2010 after he apologized for his alleged transgressions.

August 2009: Television reporters Euna Lee and Lisa Ling are released after spending four months detained in North Korea. President Bill Clinton intervened and flew to Pyongyang to secure their release.

June 1999: Karen Han, a Korean American, was arrested in March 1999 for a “gross violation” of a North Korean legal order, according the Korea Central News Agency. The state-run agency reported that the country had decided to “leniently pardon and deport her in consideration of her frank admission of her misconduct.”

May 1998:  A 73-year-old Korean-American pastor, Kwang Duk Lee, was detained in North Korea on espionage charges in the spring of 1998. The North Koreans agreed to release him three months later, after collecting an undisclosed sum of money from his family. The release was reportedly brokered at a high-level meeting between U.S. and North Korean representatives in New York.

November 1996: Evan C. Hunziker, a half-Korean American accused of spying, crossed the border in 1996, most likely to convert North Koreans to Christianity, his family says. Bill Richardson, then a representative from New Mexico, secured his release.

Because the U.S. has no official ties to the country, high-ranking officials or former politicians have had to go on “unofficial” missions to rescue U.S. citizens. The current most likely candidate for this latest mission is thought to be former President Jimmy Carter. He announced last week he plans to focus on trying to revive international disarmament talks on the North’s nuclear program and find ways to ease the country’s humanitarian woes. (via AP)

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