While there are four Americans being held prisoner in North Korea, one Canadian man who was held and interrogated by the regime said there may be many more.
James Leigh, a businessman and former military man, was last month detained by security agents while entering the hermit kingdom on a trip, and interrogated over a period of several days before being released, he told online publication Newsmax in an interview.
The Canadian citizen claimed he was held in a room next to Tony Kim, an American accounting professor doing a stint teaching at a college for the sons of North Korea’s top 1 percent, and the latest American to be held inside the secretive state.
Pyongyang confirmed earlier this week the arrest of Kim, which occurred amid rising tensions with U.S. President Donald Trump, who said he will not accept a nuclear armed North Korea.
Leigh said Kim claimed many Europeans and Americans had been secretly detained in North Korea, a claim that Leigh said was not that hard to believe, as there are thousands of Western ex-pats are living all over Asia, and it is hard to track their whereabouts if they’ve gone missing.
Kim allegedly told Leigh an associate had visited the facility where the prisoners are kept, which locals bill “the house of people with no name” or “the place without a name,” according to the Newsmax story.
North Korea has decades-long history of kidnapping foreign nationals, as the regime has used them as bargaining chips. North Korea has, for example, kidnapped Japanese citizens in past decades in a bid to use them to teach Japanese language and culture to North Korean spies. While Japan officially recognizes seventeen abductees, some groups estimate the number of Japanese citizens kidnapped and held in North Korea range from the dozens to a few hundred.
The kidnappings began in the late 1970s, and North Korea was especially fond of kidnapping Japanese, as their identities could be stolen to forge Japanese passports. At the time and still today, Japanese passport holders can enter many countries as tourists without a visa.
The actual abductions were as brazen as could be. Thirteen-year-old Megumi Yokota was last seen in 1977 less than 1,000 feet from her family’s home in the Japanese port city of Niigata. A young couple, Kaoru Hasuike and Yukiko Okudo, were grabbed in 1977 on a beach in their hometown, tied up, drugged and transported to North Korea.
Others were grabbed inside their home countries, including four women from Lebanon, and a Thai woman living in Macau who was abducted on her way to the hairdresser. A Romanian artist was invited to exhibit his work in North Korea, and ended up being abducted.
Aside from Tony Kim, three other Americans are known to be imprisoned in North Korea. In March, the regime sentenced Otto F. Warmbier, a 21-year-old student at the University of Virginia, to 15 years hard labor. The alleged crime was taking a propaganda poster down from a hotel wall.
Former Virginia resident Kim Dong Chul was detained by North Korea in 2015 and was charged with spying on the regime.
On Sunday, Korea’s official state media, KCNA, reported that U.S. citizen Kim Hak Song, was detained on Saturday. He had worked for the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, where Tony Kim had also worked.
As there is no transparency or logical rule of law in North Korea, the regime often arbitrarily charges people without evidence and concocts far-fetched stories about their supposed “crimes.”
***Editor’s note: The story initially reported that three Americans were being held in North Korea. Over the weekend North Korea reported the regime had taken a fourth American into custody. The story has been updated to reflect the new information.
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