Three U.S. citizens who had been imprisoned in North Korea, including a pastor connected to a Los Angeles church, were back in the United States Thursday and undergoing medical examinations.
Kim Hak-song is an evangelical Christian pastor affiliated with the Oriental Mission Church in Los Angeles’ Koreatown area. He is a native of China but a naturalized U.S. citizen. He was detained May 7, 2017, while teaching at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.
Hak-song and the other two detainees, Kim Dong-chul and 59-year-old Tony Kim, also known as Kim San-duk, arrived at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland at 2 a.m. Eastern time. They were greeted by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
In a statement to ABC7, officials with the Oriental Mission Church said they were grateful for Hak-song’s safe return.
“Missionary Kim was in charge of the agricultural technology dissemination and ministry through the experimental farm at the Pyongyang Science and Technology University,” according to the statement. “He was devoted to ministry. He was captured trying to return to his home in Dandong, China, in May last year. … Now, we are grateful for the safe return home to his loved ones.”
Tony Kim earned a master’s degree from UC Riverside in 1990 and has family in Riverside. He was detained at Pyongyang airport on April 22, 2017, for alleged “criminal acts of hostility” aimed at overturning the North Korean government. He had also been teaching at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. He taught accounting and business.
His family has been waging a social media campaign to continue pushing for the release of Kim and the two other detainees. The family issued a statement Wednesday hailing their release.
“We are very grateful for the release of our husband and father, Tony Kim, and the other two American detainees,” according to the family. “We want to thank all of those who have worked toward and contributed to his return home. We also want to thank the president for engaging directly with North Korea. Mostly, we thank God for Tony’s safe return.
“We appreciate all of the support and prayers of friends and even strangers during this challenging year. You are dear to our hearts. We ask that you continue to pray for the people of North Korea and for the release of all who are still being held. Thank you.”
The three detainees were released Wednesday to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. The freed detainees appeared tired but in high spirits. After their arrival in the United States, they were taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to be evaluated and treated as necessary before being reunited with their families.
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