Will three U.S. citizens detained by North Korea finally be allowed to leave the country? President Trump seems to think so. On Wednesday night, he tweeted out a message that suggested the Americans could soon go free.
(Two of the three prisoners were in fact detained by North Korea after Trump’s inauguration.)
Former New York City mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, now a member of President Trump’s legal team, also indicated the possibility of release on Thursday in an interview with Fox News. “We got Kim Jong Un impressed enough to be releasing three prisoners today,” he said.
Neither Trump nor Giuliani offered any details as to why they believe a release may be imminent. South Korean media outlets have recently reported a claim by an activist that the three Americans were moved from a labor camp, according to NBC News, but the State Department has said it “cannot confirm the validity of these reports.”
Here is a look at the three men who might soon go free:
Hak-song was detained by North Korean officials last year. The agricultural consultant is being held on accusations of having planned “hostile acts,” a vague term that has been used to charge individuals with attempts to overthrow the regime in Pyongyang.
Not much is known about Hak-song. He was likely born in China, but he later moved to the United States and became a U.S. citizen. He subsequently returned to the Yanji area in China, which is a hub for North Korea-China trade.
After studying agriculture there, according to the BBC, he moved to North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang.
Hak-song was associated with the Pyongyang University of Science & Technology, or PUST, a privately run institution that was founded in 2010 and is financed by Christian groups that face severe repression in North Korea.
Dong-chul is the only one of the three prisoners who was detained before Trump’s inauguration, in Oct. 2015.
The former Virginia resident is now in his mid-60s and was living in the Chinese city of Yanji, near the North Korean border, before he was detained. Dong-chul is believed to have moved to Yanji in 2001 and was working for a hotel services company when he was detained.
North Korea sentenced Dong-chul to 10 years in prison for allegedly spying on and trying to subvert North Korea.
The 59-year old accountant, who was born in South Korea but was a naturalized U.S. citizen, had been teaching at the Yanbian University of Science and Technology in Yanji for more than 15 years. The university is associated with PUST, its North Korean sister school.
Tony also made multiple trips to North Korea for humanitarian work and teaching assignments, according to The Washington Post’s Anna Fifield, most recently teaching finance and management in Pyongyang for several weeks at a time.
He was detained by North Korean authorities on April 22, 2017, as he was trying to leave the country with his wife, who has since returned to the United States. Tony was subsequently accused of “acts of hostility” and aiming to overthrow the regime.
In a video disseminated on social media, Tony’s son directly addressed his father earlier this year as tensions between North Korea and the United States mounted. “We want to tell him that he’s soon going to be a grandfather. My brother and sister are [each] expecting their first child,” Sol Kim said.
It is a message he may soon be able to deliver in person.