A federal courtroom in Los Angeles was enthralled on Tuesday as Cindy Warmbier, mother of Otto Warmbier, appealed for heartfelt support to protect the life of a former US Navy arrested for being an activist against the regime. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Christopher Ahn faces extradition to Spain as a member of the group advocating freedom for North Korea. His supporters fear he will be killed by Kim Jong Un if the Biden administration continues to press a request by Spanish authorities to return him to Madrid to face charges. No extradition decision has been made, but another hearing is scheduled for next month.
“I just want to say one thing, how grateful I am to all the supporters and all the people who have supported me a lot, contacted me and believed in me,” Ahn said after the end of the hearing. “We all believe that truth, logic and common sense will do.”
Ahn added that he is asking the judge to make “the right decision”. He is currently out on bail.
Ms Warmbier was joined in court by her husband, Fred. They had traveled from their home in Ohio to Los Angeles to attend the hearing and show public support for Ahn. Their son Otto was a 22-year-old University of Virginia student in an educational program when he was falsely arrested by Kim’s regime, tortured and sent home to die in 2017.
The Warmbiers have openly criticized North Korea’s human rights record and see the Ahn case as part of that mission.
One of the witnesses who testified told Fox News that if Ahn were extradited he would face certain death.
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“Christopher Ahn risks being assassinated in broad daylight for the world to see, to argue that North Korea will indeed go to the ends of the earth to kill a priority target like Christopher Ahn,” said Sung-Yoon Lee , a Kim Koo-Korea Foundation professor of Korean studies and assistant professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He testified in Ahn’s defense despite objections from federal prosecutors.
“Another possibility is that Ahn could be kidnapped, taken to North Korea, tortured extensively and then executed in public,” he told Fox News. “North Korea is a terrorist state with global murderous reach, with vast resources for implementation, carrying out its assassination work against high-value targets like Christopher.”
Ahn’s supporters demand that the Justice Department abandon its extradition efforts. He is accused in Spain of breaking into the North Korean embassy in Madrid in 2019, as part of what was allegedly an operation to help the North Korean ambassador to Spain escape and to defect.
If the United States hands over the old leather collar to the Spanish authorities, “North Korea will go to the ends of the earth to find him, to hurt him, to assassinate him,” Lee said.
The federal judge in Ahn’s case appeared to agree that Ahn would be in danger if the Justice Department put him on a plane to Madrid.
“The FBI confirmed that the North Korean government threatened his life,” wrote US magistrate Jean Rosenbluth in 2019. “… He is apparently the target of a dictatorship’s efforts to assassinate him.”
Ahn, 39, who spent six years in the military and served in the Iraq war, was arrested in 2019 as a member of the Free Joseon group. The group, whose name means “Free North Korea,” opposes the Kim regime and has helped several high-profile North Koreans defect.
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Spanish authorities say Ahn and the small group of activists broke into the North Korean embassy in Madrid before tying up and beating some diplomats. These requests were the basis of the demand for the return of the men by Spain. But Ahn’s supporters say the activists were invited into the building as part of an agreed plan to help Kim’s ambassador escape. Activists say they have spent hours inside without any problems.
Videos watched by Fox News show the activists calmly entering the embassy and one sitting in an office quietly chatting with a member of Kim’s diplomatic corps. An unidentified activist takes the official photos of Kim Jong Un and his father, Kim Jong Il, from the wall and crushes the portraits on the floor.
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The operation was halted when the Spanish police were alerted.
“The extradition documents from Spain confirm that almost the entire case against Mr. Ahn is based on unsubstantiated statements made by senior North Korean officials,” Ahn’s lawyer Naeun Rim previously said, at Fox News. “The statements of these officials are not credible. For example, they contain many inconsistencies as to who would have been tied up and how everyone would have been released. (…) There is no record. medical to corroborate the injuries the officials allegedly suffered. We plan to vigorously challenge the extradition hearing and show that the case against Chris is not supported by competent evidence. “
“This is the very first case that the United States government executes an arrest warrant issued by another state, albeit a friendly ally, Spain, but a case that is almost entirely based on testimony North Koreans. What’s wrong with that? Well, we know that the North Korean state lies for a living. It is a state based on terror, both inside and out, but also a cult personality, ”Lee said.
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When Ahn returned to the United States, his lawyers say he and his fellow activists gave the FBI USB drives, computer disks and other sensitive documents that they had taken from North Korean offices.
But instead of being fired by the Trump administration’s Justice Department, they have been indicted and Ahn is now at risk of extradition.
“He [Ahn] apparently has more reason to fear assassination or other harm from North Korea if he were to be returned to Spain, ”the judge said.
The Justice Department did not provide a statement to Fox News on Ahn’s case or whether prosecutors would consider blocking Spain’s extradition request.
Fox News’ Ben Evansky contributed to this report.