We almost have enough detainees to open up a database. The release of Joo Won-moon, however, does suggest a pattern: treatment of detainees is closely calibrated to the regime’s perception of risk. At one end are the odd set of misfits and naïfs who made bad judgments or acted on a lark; the roster can be found below and our earlier commentary on Joo here. They are typically released in six months or so, although on occasion only through an envoy.
But lest we forget, some have come in for much harder treatment, and particularly South Koreans or other native Korean speakers involved in serious missionary work. Kenneth Bae was held for about two years. South Korean missionary Kim Jung-wook has now been held by North Korea for more than two years as well. Kim Kuk-gi and Choe Chun-gil are serving life sentences at hard labor after being arrested in March. The post on them linked below walks through the extraordinary indictment and the depth of North Korean concern for the border that it revealed. Also still detained is Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim, who was arrested in January of this year.
One irony of Joo’s release: he is a Korean citizen, although holding a US green card. In principle, he could be charged under South Korea’s National Security Law. We have argued repeatedly that the NSL is hopeless and should be scrapped altogether; it can’t be fixed. But if you have a sense of irony, it might be appropriate in this case. Getting detained by North Korea is not a joke, and involves costly diplomatic work for the governments of the detainees.
Previous Posts on the Detainees
- Detainees and Envoys (April 2013; on the possible North Korean motive of securing visits by high level envoys)
- Detained Americans: Not-So-Innocents Abroad (September 2013; brief outlines of the American detainees)
- Merrill Newman “Confesses” (November 2013)
- Why is Kenneth Bae Treated More Harshly than John Short? (March 2014)
- Miller Matthew Todd (April 2014; how Miller’s name was initially reported by KCNA)
- State Department Travel Advisory Update (June 2014)
- Slave to the Blog: Abductions and Detainees Edition (June 2014; Fowle detention)
- Detainee Update and Canadians in Dandong (early August 2014 stories on the three Americans and the sweep against Christians along the Chinese side of the border)
- The Release of Jeffrey Fowle (October 2014)
- Bae and Miller Released, The Excellent Adventures of Matthew Todd Miller and James Clapper and The Hostage Rorschach Test (November 2014)
- Arturo Pierre Mendez
- Mike Chinoy on Merrill Newman
- Kim Kuk-ki and Choe Chun-gil
- Won-Moon Joo
- Hyeon Soo Lim Update