Abduction and Arbitrary Detention in the DPRK

ICNK (11.07.2017)

1. Identity:

  • Name: Mr. Ham Jin-Woo
  • Age: 62
  • Nationality: The Republic of Korea ( Ham used to be a citizen of the DPRK until 2011.)
  • Occupation: Journalist of the Daily NK since January 2012 (Pseudonym: Choi Song-Min[1])

2. The account of the case

  • One the 28th of May, Mr. Ham left Seoul for a business trip to China.

  • A few weeks in advance, he disclosed his plan of a business trip with the leading staff of the Daily NK and Unification Media Group, an umbrella group that Daily NK is part of. Mr. Ham said at the meeting that his former co-worker of the Bureau of Reconnaissance asked him to come close to the border between China and North Korea and to bring certain important materials that he had collected. His former co-worker’s identity was not known to the Daily NK. Mr. Ham insisted that his co-worker was an old close friend of his who had cooperated with Mr. Ham for a long time, so he believed the situation would be safe. Thereafter, he left for Sanhe, Longjing in Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, Jilin-Sheng in China to meet his former co-worker.

  • In the morning on the 29th when Mr. Ham was supposed to meet his colleague at the border of Sanhe on the Chinese side, he has gone missing. There has been no communication with Mr. Ham.

  • On the 29 May, the family and the Daily NK asked the Consul of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the ROK for his whereabouts after losing contact with him. Mr. Ham was supposed to call the Daily NK’s head office after contacting with his internal source at Sanhe, China, but there was no call.

  • At the same time, they have asked a few sources about Mr. Ham’s whereabouts and collected information that between 7:30 AM and 8:00 AM on the 29th May nearby the Chinese border with North Korea in Sanhe, China a man had a physical altercation with two others who crossed the border from North Korea and eventually was dragged into North Korea. Many neighbors who witnessed this altercation in Sanhe knew these men were North Korean. It was also cross-checked by different sources through Mr. Gwak Myung-Il (a Yonhap News reporter), Mr. Ham’s son, and Unification Media Group’s Vice-director.

  • On the 2nd June, the Daily NK requested once again the MOFA of South Korea for his whereabouts. The official answer of the MOFA was that “There hasn’t been any notice from China and the government will keep checking out if there is a message from China.”

  • On the 23rd June, an internal source of an activist working for North Korean human rights who wants to remain anonymous said that “A man named as Ham Jin-Woo has been detained in an underground prison of the State Security Department (SSD) in Pyongyang. He was lured into North Korea by an acquaintance of his.”

  • According to the source, Mr. Ham is supposedly going to be killed after being utilized for medical experiments on his living body. Mr. Ham’s reporting on North Korea from South Korea has aggravated the North Korean authorities, so that intelligence may sound to be realistic or feasible.

  • Regarding the SSD cell where Mr. Ham might have been detained, it has not been confirmed by the source if it is in the basement of the SSD headquarters located in the Seosung-district (서성구역) of Pyongyang, or in one of the SSD branches of several districts in Pyongyang.

  • If he is still under a preliminary investigation by the SSD in a detention facility, which is called “jipgyeolso (집결소),” he might have been treated by the Preliminary Investigation Bureau of the SSD, which is located in the mankyeongdae-district (만경대구역) in Pyongyang.

  • Since then, there has been no notice from the government of South Korea and inside sources as well.


3. Mr. Ham’s activities to be relevant to the abduction and arbitrary detention in North Korea

Mr. Ham works at the Daily NK (, an online newspaper that reports on  issues in North Korean society to the world. He had worked as a reporter since January 2012 after he left North Korea in 2011 and settled down in Seoul. He wrote under a pseudonym, Choi Song-Min. As a Daily NK’s reporter, he utilized his network in North Korea and released quite a number of news articles on important issues in North Korea. In addition to that, through several media and public events he testified a few times the fact that

In North Korea, he was a soldier for the Bureau of Reconnaissance since 1973. The Bureau was merged with the Operational Department, which was known as the 6th Department of the Workers’ Party, and renamed as the General Bureau of Reconnaissance in 2009. From 1990 to 2001, he managed a training center to cultivate special soldiers of the General Bureau of Reconnaissance.

The General Bureau of Reconnaissance carried out operations to kidnap Japanese fishermen from the early 1960s till late 1980s: The Bureau seized a Japanese fisher boat to kidnap the one youngest and strongest fisherman out of around 6 fishermen and then proceeded to sink the boat, in which the other crews and fishermen were still detained on it. Mr Ham also carried out operations a few times and the Bureau kidnapped around 80 Japanese fishermen in total, according to his testimony.

It is included in the report of the Commission of Inquiry on the situation of the DPRK through a confidential meeting between the three Commissioners and Mr. Ham in mid-August, 2013. His most recent presentation about this operation was in Tokyo on the 17th of March, 2017 at an international symposium hosted by ICNK.

4. Reason for Mr. Ham’s abduction and arbitrary detention in North Korea

The Daily NK (, has been the target of North Korean authorities’ official denunciation through state-run media, like the Uriminjokkiri, an online propaganda website for native-speaking Korean internet users in South Korea and the world. They stated that, “That extreme conservative newspaper conducts vicious slander on the Supreme Leader[2].” Even in 2017, North Korean state-run media released several times of denunciation of the Daily NK’s news articles and the latest one was released on April 4 stating that “South Korean extreme conservative newspapers like The Daily NK have caused national conflicts.” It means the North’s authorities are very well aware of activities of the Daily NK and Mr. Ham’s as well. Therefore, Mr. Ham, a reporter of the Daily NK, seems to be quite at risk.

More seriously, there is a high chance that the authorities suppose that Mr. Ham’s activities at the Daily NK, through which intelligence of the highly confidential operations of the Bureau of Reconnaissance leaked out, are considered a serious treason.

These could be the obvious background to apply the Article 3, Crimes against the state and nation of the Penal Code of the DPRK.

Given that the fact the US citizen, Mr. Otto Warmbier, was sentenced to 15 years of labor-imprisonment because he took off a wooden banner from a wall of the hotel, on which the word, “Kim Jong Il,” was carved and put it on the floor, Mr. Choi’s suspicion is much more serious from the authorities’ point of view. In addition, he used to be a North Korean national, so his sentence will be allegedly more heavier than Mr. Otto Warmbier.

Article 3. Crimes against the state and nation

  1. Crimes against the State

Provision 62 (propaganda against the state and sedition)

A person who incites sedition or conducted propaganda for the purpose of sedition against the State is  sentenced to five years or less in prison. If the case is serious, five to ten years in prison is possible.

Provision 63 (Treason)

If a North Korean national escapes to a foreign country after betraying his/her country and thereafter conducted treasonous acts, such as handing over confidential issues to other country, they are sentenced to five years or less imprisonment. If the case is serious, they are sentenced to life and forced labor, or to expropriating the criminal’s property.

Provision 64 (Espionage)

If a person who is not a national of the Republic detects, collects information on confidential issues, or provide information in order for surveillance on the State, they are sentenced to five years to ten years of labor-imprisonment. If the case is serious, ten years and more is possible.

5. Violations of related international laws

His abduction and arbitrary detention seem to be violations of the articles 13, 14, 18, 19 and 21 of the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and articles 12, 18, 19, and 25 of the the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Regarding his case, the odds to guarantee these rights described in the articles 9 and 10 of the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and articles 9 and 14 of the ICCPR is completely low. Several prominent reports on North Korea tell this situation very accurately: 2016 White Paper of KINU and the report of the Commission of the Inquiry on human rights situation of the DPRK.

2016 White Paper of KINU states that “Trials of political prisoners in North Korea violate human rights for the following reasons. First, trials are held by a non-court entity. Second, North Korean political prisoners are deprived of an opportunity for appeal. Third, the North Korean authorities arbitrarily stretch the definition of the political prisoner.”[3]

For that reason, the Commission of Inquiry explained pointed out “Office of the Prosecutor and the court system” as an institution who should take institutional accountability for “unfair trials.”[4]


[1]  Mr. Choi Song Min (Ham Jin-Woo)’s Korean news article collection on the DailyNK:


[3]  KINU, ’White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea 2016,’ p. 155, (2) SSD Political Criminal Trials,

[4]  “The report of the Commission of Inquiry on human rights situation in the DPRK,” p. 367, para. 1773



If you want to be regularly informed about different violations of human rights in the world, click here for a free subscription to our newsletters!


HRWF database of news and information on over 70 countries:

List of hundreds of documented cases of believers of various faiths in 20 countries:  

HTML Snippets Powered By :