(CNSNews.com) – The son of one of three Americans incarcerated in North Korea said Wednesday the family has had “no indication that they have been released,” but was hopeful, after reports that the three men had been moved from a labor camp to a hotel near Pyongyang, ahead of a planned summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un.
President Trump hinted Wednesday at the possibility the three could be freed soon.
“As everybody is aware, the past Administration has long been asking for three hostages to be released from a North Korean Labor camp, but to no avail,” he tweeted. “Stay tuned!”
“My family and I appreciate the ongoing support for the release of the 3 Americans (#USA3) detained in North Korea including my dad, Tony Kim,” Sol Kim tweeted. “We are hopeful but we have no indication that they have been released.”
“Thank you for your continued prayers and efforts to help bring them home,” he added. “We look forward to all of the families being reunited very soon.”
Sol Kim has been running a social media campaign, using the hashtag #USA3, to raise awareness of the plight of the three men.
His father, Tony Kim, 59, was teaching at the Western-funded, private Pyongyang University of Science and Technology when detained at Pyongyang international airport on April 22 last year. The following month he was reportedly accused of “criminal acts of hostility” against the regime.
The two other Americans held in North Korea are businessman Kim Dong Chul, 64, who was arrested in 2015, charged with subversion and espionage, and sentenced in April 2016 to 10 years’ hard labor; and Kim Hak-Song, 55, another academic at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, who was detained in May last year, on suspicion of committing “hostile acts” against the regime.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency on Wednesday quoted Choi Sung-yong, who runs an organization advocating for South Koreans who have been abducted in the North, as saying the three men had been moved to a hotel early last month.
On March 8, the White House confirmed that Trump had accepted an invitation to hold a summit with Kim, after months of escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula, marked by intercontinental ballistic missile tests and the regime’s most powerful nuclear test yet.
Then a month ago, then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo traveled secretly to North Korea over the Easter weekend, for talks with Kim in preparation for the summit.
Trump said on April 18 that the administration was “fighting very diligently to get the three American citizens back,” and in an ABC News interview on April 28 Pompeo – now secretary of state – confirmed that during his meetings in Pyongyang, “I talked about getting the release of the American detainees.”
North Korea has imprisoned Americans in the past in what were seen as attempts to win leverage in talks with the West over its nuclear program and other issues of dispute.
Most recently Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old student from Cincinnati, died shortly after being released from a North Korean prison and returned home in a coma last June. He had been sentenced in March 2016 to 15 years’ hard labor after being convicted of hostile “acts against the state.”
After Warmbier’s death, the administration banned Americans from traveling to North Korea, unless they are journalists or aid workers, and have the State Department’s permission to go.
Other Americans imprisoned earlier in the reclusive Stalinist state include:
--Kenneth Bae, a Christian arrested in 2012 and sentenced the following year to 15 years’ hard labor for “hostile acts” aimed at bringing down the regime. He was released in late 2014.
--Matthew Todd Miller, a teacher from California sentenced to six years’ hard labor for “hostile acts” after reportedly ripping up his tourist visa on arrival in Pyongyang in April 2014. He was released with Bae later that year.
--Jeffrey Fowle, a U.S. citizen from Ohio who was arrested in 2014 after leaving a Bible at a seaman’s club in a North Korean city. He was released in October that year.
--Aijalon Gomes, a teacher sentenced in 2010 to eight years’ hard labor after crossing the border from China. Former President Carter traveled to Pyongyang in August of that year in a private capacity, and secured his release.
--Journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling, detained along the North Korean-Chinese border in 2009 and sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment for an unspecified “grave crime” against the Stalinist state. They were granted a “special pardon” by Kim Jong-il after former President Clinton visited also acting in a private capacity, to request their release.