Ahead of landmark talks with President Donald Trump, North Korea has allegedly released three U.S. prisoners who were being held for years in a labor camp.
Kim Dong-chul, Kim Sang-duk and Kim Hak-song are three U.S. citizens who were arrested in North Korea last year and accused of “hostile acts.” All three have been held ever since in one of the rogue regime’s notorious labor camps. But now multiple media reports have claimed that the three men were released from the camp and brought to receive medical treatment in North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang. It is unclear if and when they will be returned to the U.S.
Some experts suggested that the move was meant to facilitate upcoming talks between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Late last week, the family of another U.S. citizen previously held by North Korea filed a lawsuit against Pyongyang over the death of their son. The 22-year-old college student Otto Warmbier had been accused of stealing a propaganda poster while visiting North Korea on a school trip. He was returned to the U.S. in a coma and died a few days later. In their lawsuit, Warmbier’s parents accused North Korea’s leadership of having brutally murdered their son. The lawsuit, and the detention of the three American citizens, was expected to be a point of contention in the upcoming talks between Trump and Kim.
Trump’s newly appointed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo allegedly spoke to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un about the prisoners when he secretly visited the hermit kingdom over Easter.
South Korea’s media reported that the U.S. prisoners are receiving ideological education and are being coached to claim that they did not experience human rights abuses while imprisoned in North Korea. But rights groups say prisoners in North Korea’s prisons and labor camps are routinely tortured and treated inhumanely.
“Detainees face deplorable conditions, sexual coercion and abuse, beatings and torture by guards, and forced labor in dangerous and sometimes deadly conditions,” a 2016 report by Human Rights Watch detailed.
“Those accused of serious political offenses are usually sent to political prison camps, known as kwanliso, operated by North Korea’s National Security Agency. These camps are characterized by systematic abuses, including meager rations that imperil health and can lead to starvation, virtually no medical care, lack of proper housing and clothes, regular mistreatment including sexual assault and torture by guards, and public executions,” the report continued.
North and South Korean leaders met last week for a historic summit, during which they committed to ending decades of hostilities and to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, however, warned that North Korea’s leadership should not be trusted.