Ham Jin Woo, a reporter for the South Korean news website Daily NK, was abducted on May 29, 2017, while he was reporting on the Chinese side of the China-North Korea border between Sanhe, Longjin in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture of China and Hoiryong City, North Korea, according to a report submitted to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances by Eunkyong Kwon, Ham’s former colleague at the Daily NK and secretary general of the North Korea-focused human rights group ICNK.
According to the report, Ham’s family said that his Korean-Chinese taxi driver witnessed an argument and physical confrontation between Ham and two men who had crossed into China from North Korea who then dragged the journalist over the border to North Korea.
Ham, now a South Korean citizen, defected from North Korea in 2011; in January 2012, he began writing for the Daily NK, which specializes in North Korean news, under the pen name Choi Song Min, according to the report.
In North Korea, Ham had worked at the Bureau of Reconnaissance, later renamed the General Bureau of Reconnaissance, which manages intelligence operations targeting South Korea and Japan.
During his May 2017 reporting trip, Ham informed the Daily NK that he planned to visit the border area of North Korea where would try to meet a former colleague to gather reporting material, the report stated.
In July 2017, the International Commission to Stop Crimes against Humanity by North Korea reported that Ham gave testimony about the abduction of Japanese citizens carried out by the Bureau of Reconnaissance before his abduction.
Following Ham’s abduction, the Daily NK received information that the State Security Department in Pyongyang had detained a man named Han Jin Woo.
Initially, Ham’s family, who live in South Korea, did not want to bring publicity to his case fearing they would make his situation worse, according to a report in the Daily NK. However, on May 16, 2018, Ham’s wife, wearing a face mask and sun glasses to conceal her face for safety reasons, made a public appeal for his return and asked South Korean President Moon Jae In for help.
The Daily NK demanded that, as negotiations proceed between North and South Korea, Ham’s return be included in South Korea’s request for repatriation of South Korean citizens detained in the North.
The South Korean Embassy in Washington D.C. did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment.