Prisoner Name: Pastor Kim Kuk-gi
Location: North Korea
Arrested: December 2014
Arrest and background
One of two South Korean men detained late last year by the North Korean government on charges of espionage is Presbyterian pastor, Kim Kuk-gi, who has dedicated much of the past 13 years to helping North Korean defectors in China. In a dispatch on March 26, 2015, North Korea’s ofﬁcial KCNA news agency described the two men, Kimand Choe Chun-gil, as ‘heinous terrorists’ who operated from a base in the Chinese city of Dandong. ‘They zealously took part in an anti-DPRK [anti-North Korea] smear campaign’, said KCNA, alleging their activities were organised by US intelligence and the South Korean National Intelligence Service (NIS). The two men were presented at a ‘press conference’ in Pyongyang attended by journalists and foreign diplomats.
In Seoul, the NIS said the charge that the two men were working for the agency was ‘absolutely
groundless’. Lim Byeong-cheol, a spokesman at South Korea’s Uniﬁcation Ministry, conﬁrmed Kim and
Choe were South Korean citizens but denied they were engaged in espionage operations. ‘We strongly
demand North Korea to quickly release our citizens Kim Kuk-gi and Choe Chun-gil and repatriate them
without hesitation,’ Lim said. Ministry ofﬁcials could not explain exactly how the two men ended up in
the North, nor is it clear when or where the two men were arrested.
Kim was also accused of spreading ‘religious propaganda’ from an ‘underground church’ he ran in
Dandong, which has a large ethnic Korean community and is a hub of both ofﬁcial and illicit crossborder
trade. Following the North Korean state news agency’s announcement, the Seoul-based
General Assembly of Presbyterian Churches in Korea (GAPCK) identiﬁed Kim Kuk-gi as one of their
own registered pastors and demanded that he be released. A representative from the Presbyterian
assembly said, ‘He was carrying out missionary works for North Korean defectors in [the Chinese port
city of] Dandong. He bought noodle and tofu-making machines to send to the North, as well as sewing
machines’. South Korean authorities tried to deliver a written request for the two men to be released.
However, North Korean ofﬁcials refused to accept the request.
In a further statement GAPCK provided some detail on who Kim’s ministry in Dandong was helping and
contended that North Korea had clearly violated international human rights laws by detaining the pastor
against his will. ‘Kim Kuk-gi was sent as a missionary… to Dandong in China in 2003, and since then,
he has been operating a ‘‘shelter for refugees,’’ and has been taking care of refugees, Kotjebi (North
Korean homeless children) and Korean immigrants living in China,’ GAPCK stated. They also asked if
people would pray for Pastor Kim’s safe return.