Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership
An 85-year old US citizen has been detained in the DPRK since 26 October. DPRK officials confirmed the detention to officials of Sweden’s Embassy in Pyongyang, which acts as the US’ protecting power in the DPRK. The US citizen had concluded his nine (9) day tour of the country and was on a return flight to Beijing when uniformed personnel of a DPRK internal security agency boarded and escorted the man off the plane. According to members of his family, the US citizen served in the US Army as an infantry officer in the Korean (Fatherland Liberation) War. On 25 October, prior to his scheduled departure from the country, the US citizen met with unnamed DPRK officials and discussed his service record during the war which, according to his son, left the man “slightly unnerved.” There is a strong possibility that the detained US citizen was confused with another Korean War veteran, a highly decorated former US Marine with the same first and last name. The man’s wife said of the reason behind his detention that “the family feels there has been some dreadful misunderstanding.”
The circumstances around this latest detention of a foreign national are similar to a case in 2011 when a Dutch stamp collector and shop owner was accused of espionage and held in a DPRK detention facility for two weeks. Like the most recent detention, the Dutch national was not on his return flight to his home country and the DPRK did not publicize the man’s detention. The key similarity between these two cases is that the detentions occurred because of interactions with or the activities of local DPRK citizens; the Dutch national was detained because of some unknown illegal actions by his local hosts, and the US citizen was detained after discussing the Korean War with DPRK officials. In contrast to the latest detention, the Dutch national was held for a shorter period of time, his photo as well and a short essay on the DPRK’s local elections appeared in state media and, unlike the US citizen recently detained, the Dutch national had traveled to the DPRK on 24 previous occasions. The Dutch citizen’s account of his 2011 detention might provide some insight into the 85-year old US citizen’s current situation.
This the second detention of a US citizen in the DPRK during the last year. In November 2012 a US citizen was arrested in Raso’n when he was scheduled to leave the country. The DPRK publicized his arrest 43 days after it occurred. The man was subsequently tried and sentenced for “committing hostile acts” and is presently incarcerated at a “special prison.”