U.S. Citizen Tony Kim Joins Otto Warmbier in North Korean Prison

Otto Warmbier is no longer the most recently detained American.

Getty Images / Chung Sung-Jun

North Korea, which has made a practice of arresting and imprisoning American citizens as a method of provocation, detained another as he planned to fly out of the country on Saturday morning. American Tony Kim was a professor teaching at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.

Update [6/19/17]: Warmbier’s parents have announced their son has died at age 22.

Kim’s detention was originally reported by South Korea’s Yonhap News and it is still unclear what North Korea has planned for him.

But Kim joins a pair of other Americans already being held by North Korea: Kim Dong Chul (since October 2015) and Otto Warmbier (January 2016). Prior to Tony Kim’s detention, Warmbier was the most recent case of an American being taken as a prisoner of the North Korea regime. His experience may shed some light on what could be in store for Mr. Kim.

Warmbier was arrested for “perpetrating a hostile act against [North Korea] after entering it under the guise of tourist for the purpose of bringing down the foundation of its single-minded unity at the tacit connivance of the U.S. government and under its manipulation,” which is a mouthful way to accuse him of essentially being a spy.

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Why Was Otto Warmbier Detained in North Korea?

On March 16, 2016 — a little more than two months after his initial arrest — Warmbier was convicted by the North Korean Supreme Court after a one-hour trial. After the trail, North Korea arranged an obvious propaganda press conference for Warmbier, during which authorities had him admit to his “crimes” and accuse the U.S. government of threatening his family to coerce him into cooperating with its schemes against North Korea.

Warmbier’s sentence, based on the sentences of those who came before him, consisted of hard labor in a North Korean work camp that holds the country’s thousands of political prisoners.

Give the months-long time frame that occurred before Warmbier’s trial, it’s not likely that the details of Kim’s charges and sentence will be known for some time, but North Korea is nothing if not formulaic with its detentions. There will likely be many parallels to Warmbier’s experience.

Also likely to surface are expectations that President Donald Trump will attempt to negotiate Kim’s release, along with those of Warmbier and Chul. After the 2016 election, many hoped that Trump — who sold himself in no small part on his claimed ability to broker the best deals — would be able to negotiate with North Korea and get them to release Warmbier. Efforts on Trump’s part to do that have yet to materialize.

But Kim’s detention, coupled with other increased tensions on the Korean Penninsula may renew calls for Trump to head for the bargaining table.

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