North Korea holding NYU student, claims he entered illegally

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, second from right, takes part in an inspection of a new satellite control center at an undisclosed location.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, second from right, takes part in an inspection of a new satellite control center at an undisclosed location.

(AFP/Getty Images)

South Korea confirmed Sunday that North Korea had detained a New York University student for illegally entering the country across the border with China.

The North’s official state Korean Central News Agency identified the student as Joo Won-moon, a South Korean national, resident of New Jersey and a U.S. green card holder. KCNA said Joo was caught last month attempting to cross the Yalu River into North Korea from Dandong, a city on the Chinese side of the border. Dandong is a busy transit point for people and goods in and out of North Korea.

An official from South Korea’s Ministry of Unification confirmed via text message Sunday that Joo is a South Korean citizen who was detained in the North. The message said the ministry is looking into Joo’s case but could not offer any details about his circumstances.

John Beckman, a New York University spokesman, speaking to the Associated Press, confirmed that Joo was a student at NYU’s Stern School of Business. Beckman told the AP that Joo is not currently enrolled in classes and that NYU was not aware of his travels.


The KCNA report, published Saturday, said Joo was being questioned and had admitted to breaking North Korean law by attempting to enter illegally. The agency did not mention any possible reason that Joo might have wanted to enter North Korea.

Joo would be the fourth South Korean citizen currently detained in the North. In March, North Korea announced that it was holding two South Korean citizens it accused of being spies. South Korea denied that the two men were spies and called for their immediate release.

Last year, Kim Jung-wook, a South Korean missionary, was sentenced to life in prison in North Korea. Kim read a statement in which he claimed to be working in North Korea to topple the regime, under the orders of South Korea’s main spy agency. After being released, many foreign prisoners in North Korea report having been forced to read untrue confessions or denunciations of the U.S. or South Korea.

In November, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper traveled to North Korea to secure the release of U.S. citizens Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller. Bae was arrested in 2012 for unspecified “hostile acts” against the state. Miller reportedly tore up his visa upon entering North Korea and expressed his intention to seek asylum.

In 2010, U.S. citizen Aijalon Gomes crossed illegally into North Korea. Gomes was arrested and sentenced to eight years of hard labor, but was released several months later after former President Jimmy Carter negotiated his release on a trip to North Korea.

Borowiec is a special correspondent