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Explainer: Three American Christians released from North Korea

What just happened?

Three U.S. citizens that were being detained as political prisoners in North Korea were freed this week. The three men were released as a “goodwill gesture” ahead of a summit between President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

In the past, the U.S. government has repeatedly accused North Korea of detaining American citizens to use them as pawns in negotiations over its nuclear weapons program.

Who are the freed Americans?

The three Americans recently released from North Korea are:

Kim Dong-chul, a Korean-American missionary formerly of Fairfax, Virginia, worked at a trading business in Rason, a city in northern North Korea near the Chinese border. He was arrested for committing “unpardonable espionage” and sentenced to 10 years hard labor at a prison camp.

Tony Kim (also known as Kim Sang-duk) taught accounting at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), a privately-funded Christian university that is funded primarily by evangelicals in the U.S. and South Korea. On April 22, 2017, he was detained at the Pyongyang airport for committing “criminal acts of hostility aimed to overturn” North Korea, according to the North’s Korean Central News Agency.

Kim Hak Song also worked at PUST, managing the school’s experimental farm at the College of

Agriculture and Life Sciences. According to Reuters, in February 2015 Kim wrote in a fundraising post on the website of a Korean-Brazilian church that he was a Christian missionary devoted to helping North Korea’s people learn to be self-sufficient. He was detained on May 6, 2017, for engaging in unspecified “hostile acts” against North Korea.

Isn’t it illegal to travel to North Korea?

Until recently, about 1,000 Americans traveled to the communist country each year,

But in September 2017 the State Department made it illegal to travel to or through North Korea with an American passport. U.S. citizens are now required to obtain a passport with a special validation in order to travel to or within North Korea.

How many Americans are still being held in North Korea?

Over the past decade, 17 Americans have been detained. Last year, Otto Warmbier, an American college student, was returned to the United States with severe brain damage after being held in a North Korean prison camp. Warmbier died soon after his return to the U.S.

The three men released this week were the last American citizens still being held in North Korea

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