Kim Hak-song, who was also working at the science and technology university, was held in May 2017 for “hostile acts against the republic.” Kim was doing agricultural development work unrelated to the university, the institution said.
The longest held was Kim Dong-chul, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison with hard labor in April 2016 for espionage and subversion. Paraded before cameras ahead of his trial, he said he had spied for South Korean intelligence authorities in a plot to bring down the North’s leadership and had tried to spread religion among North Koreans.
However, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service said the case wasn’t related to the agency in any way.
The release of the American detainees was announced by Trump in a series of tweets on Wednesday morning.
Pompeo said the detainees appeared to be in “good condition and were all able to walk on the plane without assistance.”
In a statement Wednesday, Tony Kim’s family said: “We are very grateful for the release of our husband and father, Tony Kim, and the other two American detainees.”
The statement added: “We want to thank all of those who have worked toward and contributed to his return home. We also want to thank the president for engaging directly with North Korea … We ask that you continue to pray for the people of North Korea and for the release of all who are still being held.”
A North Korean official came to the Koryo Hotel at 7 p.m. local time Wednesday (6 a.m. ET) to say Kim Jong Un had granted the three detainees amnesty. The official told Pompeo that he should make sure they “do not make the same mistakes again,” according to a U.S. official who was present.
Two planes, one carrying the former detainees and another with Pompeo aboard, landed in Anchorage, Alaska, Wednesday evening ET, en route to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.
North Korea last year released Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student who was convicted of “hostile acts” in 2016 after visiting Pyongyang. However, he was left in a coma after his labor camp ordeal and died days after returning to Ohio. Warmbier allegedly attempted to steal a propaganda banner from a restricted area of his hotel.
In a statement on Wednesday, Warmbier’s family said they were “happy for the hostages and their families,” adding, “We miss Otto.”
The proposed meeting between Kim Jong Un and Trump come after punishing sanctions leveled against North Korea in response to its missile and nuclear tests.
I am pleased to inform you that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the air and on his way back from North Korea with the 3 wonderful gentlemen that everyone is looking so forward to meeting. They seem to be in good health. Also, good meeting with Kim Jong Un. Date & Place set.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 9, 2018
Kim claimed in April that the country would suspend nuclear and missile tests, claiming further tests were unnecessary, and Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in met for a historic summit in late April.
The White House has credited its campaign of “maximum pressure” for creating an atmosphere for dialogue with North Korea.
North Korean state media KCNA said Thursday, “Such nonsense is a sophistry that can be made only by those with the Cold War way of thinking.”