State Department Will Not Confirm Citizenship Of North Korea’s Recent Political Prisoner

Russ Read | Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter

North Korea’s most recent prisoner claims he is a U.S. citizen, yet the U.S. Department of State refuses to confirm his citizenship status.

Kim Dong Chul is currently under arrest and awaiting charges in North Korea’s capital of Pyongyang. In an exclusive interview with CNN Monday, Kim claims that he is a dual South Korean-U.S. citizen. The Department of State, as of Monday night, has refused to confirm or deny Kim’s U.S. citizenship status.

“Speaking publicly about specific purported cases of detained Americans can complicate our tireless efforts to secure their freedom,” said the Department of State to CNN.

When queried by The Daily Caller News Foundation to confirm or deny Kim’s U.S. citizenship, a Department of State official replied,”‎We decline to comment on any such reports. As we have said, speaking publicly about specific purported cases of detained Americans can complicate our tireless efforts to secure their freedom.”

In previous situations concerning American prisoners in North Korea, the Department of State has confirmed citizenship.

The case of Kenneth Bae was a favorite in press briefings from 2012 to 2014. The Korean-American missionary and tour guide was detained in November 2012 for committing “hostile acts” against the North Korean government.

Former Department of State Deputy Spokesperson Patrick Ventrell said the government agency was doing all it could to secure Bae’s release in April 2013. He also confirmed Bae’s citizenship status.

“Well, to say that we are aware of reports that U.S. citizen Kenneth Bae will face trial in North Korea. You know the welfare of U.S. citizens is a critical and top priority for this Department. We call on the D.P.R.K. to release Kenneth Bae immediately on humanitarian grounds,” said Ventrell to reporters during a daily press briefing.

When asked a follow-up question by a reporter, Ventrell doubled down and said, “Now we are explicitly calling for the release of this U.S. citizen immediately on humanitarian grounds.”

A Department of State official told TheDCNF that “with Kenneth Bae, we could talk freely about his case because we had a signed Privacy Act waiver from him.”

The Privacy Act of 1974 set-up policies on an individual’s personal information and how it can be used or disseminated. Certain information may only be disclosed after an individual signs a waiver form.

When asked as to how Bae was able to provide the Department of State with the waiver, the official said, “Generally, in countries where the U.S. has no diplomatic relationship, a protecting power acts on our behalf regarding consular matters.  In D.P.R.K., our protecting power is Sweden.”

In a June 2014 briefing, spokesperson Jen Psaki also confirmed publicly that two North Korean prisoners, Matthew Miller and Jeffrey Fowle, were U.S. citizens.

“Well, we are aware of reports that U.S. citizens Matthew Miller and Jeffrey Fowle will face trial in North Korea. There’s no greater priority for us than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad… we request North Korea release them so they may return home. We also request North Korea pardon Kenneth Bae and grant him special amnesty and immediate release so he may reunite with his family and seek medical care,” Psaki said.

“Mr. Fowle and Mr. Miller did sign privacy act waivers,” noted the Department of State official to TheDCNF. However, the official was not able to confirm when the waivers were signed.

North Korean officials provided a copy of what appears to be Kim Dong Chul’s U.S. passport to CNN during the interview. If Kim’s citizenship is confirmed, he would be the only confirmed U.S. citizen detained in North Korea.

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