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NYU Student Detained In North Korea Was Hoping For 'Great Event'

A screen grab from Joo Won-moon's interview with CNN from Pyongyang on Tuesday.
A screen grab from Joo Won-moon's interview with CNN from Pyongyang on Tuesday.

New York University student Joo Won-moon, who's a South Korean citizen, says he's healthy and being treated well in North Korean custody, according to an interview he gave CNN on Tuesday.

The 21-year-old student, who's a permanent U.S. resident, acknowledged he crossed the border into North Korea illegally, out of hopes for a "great event" to help strengthen ties between diplomatic rivals North and South Korea.

"I thought some great event could happen and hopefully that event could have good a effect in the relationship between the North and the South," Joo told the CNN crew in Pyongyang.


Joo, who has been held since April 22 according to North Korean state media, said he hiked and crawled through two barbed wire fences to get into the rogue dictatorship, after which he was arrested by North Korean soldiers.

Since then, he says, he's been kept in a room with three beds and a private bathroom, but has no access to phones or the Internet. Joo had not spoken with South Korean officials or his family at the time of the interview.

"There's no need to worry because people here have treated me with the best of humanitarian treatment," Joo said. "I've been fed well, slept well and I've been very healthy."

Joo is the fourth known South Korean national to be held by the North. Two other South Koreans arrested in December are being held on charges of spying, charges which Seoul calls "groundless." South Korea's Unification Ministry this week called on North Korea to release all four of its citizens. On Joo, the ministry spokesman said:

"It is deeply regrettable that North Korea is detaining Joo Won-moon, who is a South Korean national, without any explanation to our government and his family. The government strongly demands the North immediately release Joo and return him to the arms of his family."

New York University said Joo was a student at its Stern School of Business but not taking classes this semester. The school said it was unaware of his travels.


South Korean authorities are expected to hold a press conference Wednesday regarding Joo's detention. The U.S. Embassy in Seoul has not yet responded to NPR's requests for comment.

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