Tag Archives: North Korea

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The Rundown on the Won-moon Joo Situation


By now, you may have heard about Won-moon Joo, the New York University student who has been detained in North Korea since April 22. On Saturday, North Korean officials said they had arrested Joo, a South Korean national with permanent residency in the United States, for illegally entering the country from China last month. Joo’s interview with CNN, broadcast on Tuesday, is the first time we’ve caught a glimpse of the 21-year-old and heard him speak about his arrest.

In the interview, a seemingly relaxed Joo tells a CNN reporter he “wanted to be arrested,” that he thought his entry into North Korea could “have some good effect” on relations between the two Koreas and that he is “willing to accept any punishment” for his actions.

The brief interview may not have provided much clarity to a developing story. We realize there is a lot we still don’t know about the situation, but here is what we can gather so far about Joo and his circumstance:

What is Won-moon Joo’s background?

He was born in Seoul. His family moved to Wisconsin in 2001, and eventually settled in New Jersey. A former president of the Tenafly High School math club, Joo graduated from Tenafly in 2012, according to the Bergen Record. He then enrolled in New York University’s Stern School of Business, where he is currently a junior. Joo told CNN that he had taken a semester off from his junior year to travel across the U.S. and, unable to find work in California, decided to go to North Korea.

How did Joo cross into North Korea?

Joo told CNN he crossed into the country near the Great Wall of China in Dandong. He said he passed two barbed wire fences and farmland until he reached a river, where he was eventually detained by North Korean officers on April 22.

9279935_origUnder Tiger Mountain, near the Great Wall. (Photo via Explore North Korea Tour Group)

Any idea why he did this?

It’s still not entirely clear. But Joo told CNN, “I thought that some great event could happen and hopefully that event could have a good effect on the relations between the north and [South Korea].” When CNN reporter Will Ripley asked Joo what “great event” he thought would happen, Joo replied, “I am not completely sure yet.”

What do we know about Joo’s treatment at the hands of North Korean authorities?

According to Joo, he’s been “fed well…slept well…and been very healthy.” “Of course I understand my parents and my loved ones are worrying a lot about me,” he says in the CNN interview, “but I would like to say that I’m well and there’s no need to worry because the people here have treated me with the best of humanitarian treatment.”

Joo also acknowledges on camera the illegality of his actions. “I did commit a wrong act so I understand that I cannot freely move around because I’m currently a criminal,” he says. On its website, CNN reported that Joo “smiled and seemed relaxed” when he entered the conference room in a Pyongyang hotel to do the televised interview. Although representatives from the North Korean government arranged the interview, it’s unclear if they were present while it took place.

20150504140942_bodyfileLim Byeong-cheol, spokesman of the Ministry of Unification, urges North Korea to release Joo. (Photo via Yonhap)

What are U.S. and South Korean officials doing in response to Joo’s arrest?

A spokesman for NYU told the Wall Street Journal that the university has been in touch with Joo’s family, the U.S. State Department and the South Korean embassy. A representative of South Korea’s Unification Ministry told NPR that it is “deeply regrettable” North Korea is detaining Joo “without any explanation to our government and his family.” Additionally, back in Joo’s home state, the Korean-American Association of New Jersey has urged elected state officials to help and has also reached out to the student’s family.

As a Green Card holder, could Joo have entered North Korea legally?

Not necessarily. The reclusive country allows U.S. citizens and foreigners to visit, provided that they are accompanied by official guides on organized tours and have a DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) visa to enter North Korea. However, South Korean nationals generally cannot go to North Korea. If South Korean passport-holders are not permitted to travel to the North, neither are South Korean nationals who are permanent residents of the U.S., because they are still considered South Korean citizens.

Isn’t North Korea currently detaining other South Koreans?

Yes. In March, North Korea said that it had arrested two South Korean men, Kim Guk-gi, 60, and Choe Chun-gil, 55, on accusations of spying for South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS). According to the New York Times, both men were living in Dandong when they crossed into the North. Both men also spoke with CNN in an interview televised Sunday. They said they worked for NIS, claimed they were being treated well and that they would accept any punishment. The NIS has called North Korea’s allegations against Kim and Choe “groundless” and has requested their release.

Kenneth BaeKenneth Bae released from his detainment in North Korea. (Photo by Ted S. Warren/AP Photo)

What has happened with other recent detainments?

Last November, Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller, both U.S. citizens who had been detained in North Korea, were freed after the U.S. director of national intelligence was sent to negotiate their release. Bae, a Christian missionary, and Miller, who was on a private tour but destroyed his passport, were held for two years and seven months, respectively, and sentenced to a respective 15 and six years of farm labor.

Additionally, American Jeffrey Fowle was released in October after being detained for nearly six months for apparently leaving a Bible in a hotel. In 2013, Merrill Newman, an American, was released after spending a month in a North Korean jail. North Korean officials released a video of Newman confessing to such “crimes” as killing civilians and bringing into the country an e-book criticizing North Korea. Newman later said in U.S. interviews his confession was coerced.



North Korea Arrests South Korean NYU Student for Illegal Entry

Pictured above: New York University’s Stern School of Business. (Photo courtesy of NYU Local)

by the Associated Press

PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea said Saturday it has arrested a South Korean student of New York University for illegally entering the country from China last month.

Won-moon Joo, who North Korea says has permanent residency in the U.S. and lives in New Jersey, was arrested on April 22 after crossing the Amnok River from the Chinese town of Dandong, the official Korean Central News Agency said.

The 21-year-old man is being questioned by state authorities and has admitted that his actions were in violation of North Korean law, the agency said.

In New York, a spokesman for New York University, John Beckman, confirmed that Joo was a junior at NYU’s Stern School of Business, but was not taking classes this semester and the university was unaware of his travels.

“When we heard the news reports, NYU got in touch with the student’s family to express our concerns over his welfare and to convey our support. His well-being is in our thoughts and prayers,” Beckman said.

He said the university was in touch with the U.S. State Department and the South Korean Embassy.

An official from South Korea’s Unification Ministry, who didn’t want to be named, citing office rules, said it couldn’t immediately confirm whether Joo was a South Korean citizen and was being held in North Korea. Officials from South Korea’s intelligence agency were unreachable for comment.

North Korea has occasionally detained South Koreans, Americans and other foreigners, often on accusations of spying, in what analysts say are attempts to wrest outside concessions.

In March, North Korea announced that it had detained two South Korean citizens over alleged espionage. It has been holding another South Korean man since late 2013 on suspicion of spying and allegedly trying to set up underground churches in the North. He was sentenced last year to life in prison with hard labor.

Also last year, the North released three Americans — two of whom entered the country on tourist visas — and Kenneth Bae, a Korean American missionary who was convicted of “anti-state” crimes. An Australian missionary detained for spreading Christianity was deported after he apologized for anti-state religious acts and requested forgiveness.


Associated Press writer Tong-hyung Kim in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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North Korea Executed 15 Senior Officials This Year: South Korea’s Spy Agency

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

North Korea has executed 15 senior officials since January, as its leader Kim Jong-un continues his reign of terror to apparently cement his authority, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service said on Wednesday.

During a closed briefing, the South’s intelligence agency told two lawmakers that two vice ministers were among the 15 officials to be executed this year. One vice forestry minister was killed in January for allegedly complaining about the North’s current reforestation policy, according to the Korea Herald. One month later, the vice minister in charge of economic planning was executed after opposing Kim’s decision to put a flower-shaped roof over a building under construction in Pyongyang.

In March, four members of the Unhasu Orchestra—the same orchestra Kim’s wife, Ri Sol-ju, previously worked for as a singer—were also executed by firing squad on espionage charges, according to Yonhap News Agency.

Lee Cheol-woo, one of the designated lawmakers for the briefing, said the intelligence agency suspects that the musicians were killed for allegedly leaking family secrets.

“Kim Jong-un is demonstrating a leadership style that absolutely does not tolerate excuses or reasons for not following through with his orders,” Shin Kyoungmin of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy told reporters, citing reports by the intelligence officials. “Those who second-guess him are executed as an example of what happens when one challenges his authority.”

Since the death of his father Kim Jong-il in 2011, Kim has frequently ordered public executions in what critics say is aimed at tightening his grip on power, as his country’s economy continues to struggle amid strict international sanctions.

In 2013, Kim shocked the world after ordering the execution of his uncle Jang Song-thaek, who was once considered the second-most powerful man in North Korea.


Featured image via Yonhap


Kenyan Man Headed for South Korea Accidentally Travels to Pyongyang, North Korea

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

Planning to attend the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics? Be sure to book your flight to the right Korea, unlike a certain Kenyan traveler who accidentally traveled to North Korea last September.

Daniel Olomae Ole Sapit, a 42-year-old representative for indigenous cow herders in the semi-nomadic Maasai tribe in Kenya, was invited to attend a United Nations conference on biodiversity in PyeongChang, a town that lies just 110 miles east of Seoul.

Instead, he found himself in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.

“Pyongyang and Pyeongchang,” Sapit recalls. “For an African, who can tell the difference?”

The Wall Street Journal reported that the two similar sounding names had confused both Sapit and Shenaz Neky, his travel agent in Nairobi.”

Neky claimed that she was only given the name of the final destination and when she typed “PyeongChang” into the reservation system, it linked her with the closest match, Pyongyang.

“The name of the towns are very similar. Apparently it’s a mistake that is very commonly made,” she said. “This was the first time I’ve done a booking to North Korea.”

Even after boarding the Air China flight to Pyongyang, Sapit did not suspect anything to be wrong. It was only when he peered out the window as the plane descended into Sunan International Airport that the Kenyan national thought something was amiss.

“It seemed to be me a very underdeveloped country,” said Sapit, who was expecting to see the highly urbanized and industrialized cityscape of South Korea.

He said his suspicions were confirmed when he saw hundreds of soldiers and portraits of the ruling Kim family. Sapit was almost immediately apprehended after customs discovered that he did not have an entry visa.

BN-IA161_PYEONG_M_20150421183847Sapit takes a selfie after landing safely in South Korea. His expression reads: “Never again.”

After being interrogated in an inspection room for several hours and signing a form attesting to violating travel laws, Sapit was eventually allowed to leave the country and board a flight to Incheon International Airport from Beijing. However, he had to pay for his new ticket and a fine of $500 for entering North Korea without a visa.

Dick Pound, a Canadian member of the International Olympic Committee, said in 2002, there was “a bit of initial confusion” when PyeongChang was first announced as a bidder for the upcoming Winter Olympics, according to the WSJ.

The 2018 Winter Olympics organizing committee has already taken measures to rebrand the host town, changing the spelling from “Pyongchang” to “PyeongChang.” Even Wikipedia has included a disclaimer in the town’s wiki page that reads: “Not to be confused with Pyonyang.”

Sapit said he will never forget his memorable trip to Pyongyang, but strongly advised 2018 Winter Olympics attendees to “study the names like the fine print of insurance contracts.”



U.S. Court Orders North Korea to Pay $330 Million Over Kidnapped Pastor’s Death

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

It’s been 15 years since Kim Dong-shik, a South Korean pastor with permanent resident status in the United States, was kidnapped by North Korean agents in northeastern China, but the family of the late pastor has finally found some measure of justice.

On April 9, the Washington D.C. District Court ordered North Korea to pay $300 million in punitive damages for Rev. Kim’s abduction and presumed torture and killing, according to the New York Times. The court also ordered the North to pay $15 million in compensation each to Rev. Kim’s brother, Yong-seok Kim, and his son, Han Kim.

“North Korea has caused irreparable emotional and psychological harm to the Kims,” Chief Judge Richard W. Roberts said in his ruling.

Rev. Kim, then 52, was kidnapped in January 2000 while hailing a taxi in the Chinese border town of Yanji, where he provided aid to North Korean defectors and refugees. A group of unidentified men jumped the pastor, and the car sped away. It was the last time Rev. Kim was ever seen in public.

Although Kim’s family suspected that North Korean agents were involved, there was very little evidence regarding the pastor’s disappearance. That changed in April 2005, when a North Korean defector, Chung Kwang-il, arrived in South Korea and told government officials that he had seen Rev. Kim in an underground cell in Hoeryong, a North Korean town across the border from Yanji, soon after his kidnapping.

Chung revealed that one of Kim’s kidnappers, Liu Yong-hua, had fled to South Korea to avoid questioning from the Chinese police about the abduction. South Korean authorities quickly arrested Liu, who confessed to participating in Rev. Kim’s abduction and admitted that the abduction team spent 10 months plotting the seizure, according to the Washington Post.

In 2009, Israeli civic group Shurat HaDin filed a lawsuit against North Korea on behalf of Rev. Kim’s family. However, the North never admitted kidnapping the pastor and refused to respond to the lawsuit.

A district court in the U.S. initially dismissed the lawsuit, claiming that there was insufficient evidence that proved North Korea was responsible for torturing and killing Rev. Kim at a prison camp. But an appeals court overturned that ruling in December 2014, granting default judgment to Rev. Kim’s family. It argued that North Korea had successfully blocked all specific details of Rev. Kim’s plight from being leaked and that testimony from experts on widespread torture in North Korean gulags were enough for the family to seek damages.

“The Kims’ evidence that the regime abducted the Reverend, that it invariably tortures and kills prisoners like him, and that it uses terror and intimidation to prevent witnesses from testifying allows us to reach the logical conclusion that the regime tortured and killed the Reverend,” the appeals court said in its written decision.

Despite the U.S. court ordering North Korea to pay $330 million in damages for Rev. Kim’s abduction, few expect the regime to actually comply with the verdict and pay the vast sum.

Shurat HaDin plans to seize North Korean assets that the U.S. government has frozen as part of financial sanctions against Pyongyang, reports Yonhap News Agency.


Featured image via The Times of Israel

Cuddy Irene Park

Link Attack: East West Players Honors Susan Ahn Cuddy; North Korean Soccer; Amadeus Cho in ‘Avengers’

Interesting reads from around the Internet. Take a gander!

East West Players Honors Susan Ahn Cuddy in ‘Born to Lead’

Above photo: The 100-year-old veteran attended the performance along with her son Philip Cuddy. It was the first time she’d seen the EWP Theatre for Youth play about her life that is currently on tour. (Pasadena City College Courier)

kenneth choi

Kenneth Choi joins horror-thriller Stephanie

The Allegiance and Sons of Anarchy star has joined Universal’s horror-thriller, Stephanie, which is directed by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman. The story centers on a young girl named Stephanie (Shree Crooks) who is abandoned by her parents. When her parents return to claim their daughter, they find supernatural forces are wreaking havoc, with Stephanie at the center of the turmoil. (The Hollywood Reporter)

Korea to punish local governments for paying native English teachers

The central government has threatened to take punitive measures against financially struggling local governments if they insist on paying the salaries of native English teachers. (The Korea Observer)

Songun soccer: Football politics in North Korea

NK News explores North Korea’s complex relationship with soccer and how politics eventually became involved.

It’s Time For Us To Update Our Image of North Koreans

Daniel Tudor, former Korea correspondent for The Economist, writes on The Huffington Post that we must start paying proper attention to the North Korean people themselves–they are where the only real hope, he says.

Adrian Cho

Leonardo da Vinci inspires Ottawa Jazz Orchestras latest chamber jazz

Bassist and bandleader Adrian Cho’s Ottawa Jazz Orchestra has a long track record of tackling some of jazz’s seminal works, whether its pieces by Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, Charles Mingus or Benny Goodman. But this Thursday, the group mounts its first evening of all-original music, written by Cho and trumpeter Rick Rangno. (Ottawa Citizen)

The chaebols: The rise of South Korea’s mighty conglomerates

CNET’s Cho Mu-hyun details how these “cornerstones of the economic, political and social landscape” helped “save South Korea from crushing poverty and defined a country’s role on the global stage.” Part one of a series.

Joy Cho

Blogger Crush: Joy Cho of Oh Joy!

Style Bistro profiles L.A. native John Cho, who runs one of the top blogs on the Internet, as well as a thriving YouTube channel, a line of party supplies at Target and a graphic design business. She is also a wife, author and mother of two.

Man Charged With Repeatedly Stabbing Ex-Girlfriend Inside Subway Restaurant In NJ

Yoon S. Choi, 48, of Silver Spring, Md., is charged with first-degree attempted murder, third-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and fourth-degree unlawful possession of a weapon. (CBS News, Philadelphia)


Will Avengers: Age Of Ultron Introduce Amadeus Cho To The Marvel Cinematic Universe?

Dr. Helen Cho (played by South Korean actor Claudia Kim) is a world-renowned geneticist and an ally of the Avengers. From her offices in Seoul, South Korea, to sharing workspace with Bruce Banner in his lab at Avengers Tower, Dr. Cho’s research and technology help keep the Avengers in the fight. (ComicBook.com)



North Korea Expels ‘Plot-Breeding’ Korean American Aid Worker

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

North Korea has deported a Korean American aid worker, accusing her of using her humanitarian status as a cover to produce anti-North Korean propaganda, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Sandra Suh is the founder of the Los Angeles-based humanitarian organization, Wheat Ministries.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said Wednesday that Suh had visited North Korea a number of times over the past 20 years “under the pretense of humanitarianism.” It also claimed that Suh had “engaged in plot-breeding” by secretly producing photos and videos that had been used as “propaganda abroad.”

According to the organization’s website, Suh founded Wheat Ministries in 1989 to provide food aid and medical technology to North Korea and formally established it as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in 2005. However, she is not listed as a current staff member.

KCNA reported that Suh “apologized for her crimes and earnestly begged for pardon” and said the authorities decided to deport her because of her “old age.”

According to the L.A. Times, Suh was originally from the Pyongyang area, but fled south during the 1950-53 Korean War. She initially began visiting North Korea in hopes of reuniting with her long-lost family members.

Suh arrived at the Beijing Capital International Airport on a flight from Pyongyang on Thursday, according a U.S. embassy spokesman. There has been no further news about Suh’s detainment or release.

In February, North Korea expelled Regina Feindt, the country director of German aid agency Welthungerhilfe, without any explanation or warning. The isolated state also detained a Korean Canadian pastor, who went missing during a humanitarian mission, in the same month.



North Korean Students Connect with ‘Harry Potter’ Characters

Pictured above: Suki Kim teaches the sons of North Korea’s most privileged families. (Photo courtesy of Suki Kim)

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

When Suki Kim, the author of Without You, There Is No Uswent undercover to teach English at Pyongyang University of Technology in 2011, she learned many surprising things about her students, such as their absolute devotion to the country’s leader and their passion for basketball. But Kim never expected the sons of North Korea’s elite to connect with the fictional characters of Harry Potter.

Under the strict supervision of the North Korean staff, Kim and her students could only talk about topics that were included in pre-approved textbooks. Surprisingly, Harry Potter was briefly mentioned in one of those textbooks.

“They [the students] kept mentioning Harry Potter,” Kim told PRI in an interview. “And one of the teachers had a DVD with her so I tried to show it to them.”

Kim formally requested the school authorities to allow her to screen Harry Potter: The Prisoner of Azkaban in class and was surprised to see her request “miraculously approved.”

IMG_1462North Korean students watching Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. (Photo courtesy of Suki Kim)

However, she was even more surprised by her students’ reaction to the film. Instead of being mesmerized by the film’s special effects, the young North Korean men were more focused on the characters writing essays.

“I had been teaching them essay writing, which was impossible there … because they don’t allow critical thinking,” Kim said. “To fight for your argument and backing it up with proof was something they could not understand. So essays became something [that was] really difficult in their mind.”

The students were amazed to find that Hermione Granger, one of Harry Potter’s best friends, also found writing essays to be difficult. Kim found that her students personally connected with the film’s characters over their shared dislike for essays.

“It was a connection they felt with the outside world, which they had never been allowed,” Kim recalls. “And that moment was a really touching moment.”

To learn more about Suki Kim’s memoir Without You, There is No Us, read our interview with the author here.