2017 has been a tough year for North Korea’s Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST). The university, founded by a Korean-American and one of the isolated nation’s top schools, was sucked into a political maelstrom this spring when the government arrested two Korean-Americans affiliated with the university. And now it’s facing a potentially devastating blow: The U.S. Department of State next week plans to impose a ban on travel by any U.S. passport holder to North Korea, effective next month. PUST President Yu-Taik Chon and some 40 PUST faculty and lecturers are U.S. citizens.
State Department guidance notes that it is “establishing a process” for U.S. citizens to apply for a limited validity passport and “special validation” to travel to North Korea for “certain purposes,” including humanitarian work. In the meantime, it urges all U.S. citizens to depart North Korea and cancel any imminent travel.
The ban could leave PUST administrators scrambling to find replacement faculty for the upcoming fall term. And it would compound the university’s woes. On 22 April, authorities detained Sang-duk "Tony" Kim, who had spent several weeks teaching accounting at PUST, over “criminal acts of hostility aimed to overturn” the North Korean government. Barely 2 weeks later, Hak-song Kim, who managed an experimental farm for PUST, was arrested; he was accused of unspecified “hostile acts.” A U.S. State Department envoy who visited the hostages last month, and a third Korean-American detainee not connected with PUST, found them to be in good health. According to sources, the PUST-affiliated detainees told the official that they are being held in isolation, individually, in a hotel and that their main daily activity is writing confessions to their alleged crimes. (The State Department notes that the detainees are exempted from the travel prohibition.)