Detainee Update: the Release of Joo Won-Moon



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

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