Hong, a Mexican passport holder who lives in the US, is believed to be the leader of a 10-member group that broke into the embassy in Madrid on Feb. 22 and tried to persuade a North Korean commercial attache to defect. The group left him tied up in the basement when he refused and took computers and cellphones.
The intruders had identified themselves as being part of a human rights movement seeking to liberate North Korea, according to a Spanish High Court judge.
Hong is alleged to be a member of a group called Free Joseon, previously Cheollima Civil Defense, which published a statement Tuesday claiming responsibility for the operation at the North Korean Embassy in Madrid. But the group denied it was an attack and contradicted much of the Spanish court’s account.
While claiming North Korean embassies are “hubs of illicit narcotics and arms trafficking,” Free Joseon said its members had been invited into the embassy and no one had been gagged or beaten.
The Spanish court said Hong purchased tactical and combat equipment at a Madrid store ahead of the attack, including fast-draw gun holsters and four combat knives. He fled to the US through Portugal after the attack.
According to NK News, the Mexican national who attacked the embassy had been actively involved in North Korean human rights issues previously under the shortened “Adrian Hong.” The online news outlet cited multiple rights advocates familiar with Hong.
While a student at Yale University, Hong co-founded Liberty in Korea, a rights advocacy group that he led from 2004 to 2008.
During one operation in 2006, Hong and two other members of the group were imprisoned in China for attempting to move six North Korean defectors to South Korea through China, according to NK News.
The six became the first North Koreans to be granted asylum in the US.
Since leaving Liberty in North Korea, Hong has held a wide range of jobs, from a fellow at TED, a media organization that posts lectures online for free distribution, to a manager of Indy Incubator, an accelerator for innovative and socially conscious businesses and nonprofits.
Hong is currently managing director of Pegasus Strategies, a strategic advisory firm, according to online profiles.In opinion pieces that he contributed to media outlets, including the Christian Science Monitor, Fox News and Foreign Policy, Hong denounced the North Korean regime and said it represents “the very worst of humanity.” He has urged the international community to take action on North Korea.
“The regime in Pyongyang has worked to perfect and make permanent a system to inflict oppression and hardship on its citizens,” Hong said in an opinion piece in the Christian Science Monitor dated Feb. 26, 2014.
When former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il died in December 2011, Hong’s commentary, titled “How to Free North Korea,” appeared in Forbes.
Kim’s death ushered in a critical phase and left the North especially vulnerable, he argued, and it was time to topple what he called its “criminal government.”
“North Korea is not a modern nation-state. It does not exist for the welfare of its populace, nor to safeguard the rights of its citizens. It exists for the sole benefit of the king and his barons -- a ridiculously scaled Mafia criminal state -- and must be treated as such.”
By Park Han-na (firstname.lastname@example.org)