UPDATE 16: 10/27/2010 – Robert Park has spoken of long-term psychological problems stemming from his captivity in North Korea. According to the Choson Ilbo:
The evangelical activist Robert Park, who was detained in North Korea for 43 days after crossing the border from China in December last year, has spoken for the first time on South Korean TV about the ordeal. “They have really thought about this. How can we kill these people, how can we starve these people, how can we enslave these people, how can we control these people,” the Korean American told KBS on Tuesday.
He pledged to devote the rest of his life to fighting for the demise of the North Korean regime and the human rights of North Koreans.
Park recalled how he crossed the Duman (or Tumen) River on Dec. 25 last year, and was immediately arrested and beaten. “The scars and wounds of the things that happened to me in North Korea are too intense,” he said. He added that to prevent him from divulging the details of his detention, the security forces carried out humiliating sexual torture. “As a result of what happened to me in North Korea, I’ve thrown away any kind of personal desire. I will never, you know, be able to have a marriage or any kind of relationship.”
He attempted a suicide immediately after he returned to the United States and had to be treated by a psychiatrist for seven months.
Park insisted that an apology he read on North Korean TV was dictated to him. Asked why he decided to enter the North illegally armed with nothing but a Bible, he said, “I hoped through my sacrifice, that people will come together and they will liberate North Korea.”
UPDATE 15: 8/30/2010 – Doubts raised over whether Gomes attempted suicide. According ot the Choson Ilbo:
The North’s official KCNA news agency on July 9 reported Gomes tried to kill himself “driven by his guilty conscience and by frustration with the U.S. government’s failure to free him.” It said he was being treated in hospital.
After the news, the U.S. administration quickly decided to send Carter to Pyongyang. In mid-August, a U.S. State Department medical team visited the North to check on the prisoner.
But in an interview with the New York Times last Saturday, Gomes’ uncle Michael Farrow denied he attempted suicide but had gone on hunger strike.
“I wouldn’t say that he was anywhere near sick at all,” the daily quoted Farrow as saying. “Naturally he probably had some discomfort of being away from home, but other than that he held up pretty good.” This suggests that Gomes was protesting against his detention.
Gomes arrived at Logan International Airport in Boston on the same plane as Carter on Friday and went home with his family without talking to the press.
UPDATE 14: 8/27/2010- Here is KCNA coverage of Cater’s visit to secure the release of Gomes:
Report on Jimmy Carter’s Visit to DPRK
Pyongyang, August 27 (KCNA) — Jimmy Carter, ex-president of the United States, and his party visited the DPRK from Aug. 25 to 27.
Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, met and had a talk with them.
He discussed with Carter the pending issues of mutual concern between the DPRK and the U.S.
Kim Yong Nam expressed the will of the DPRK government for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the resumption of the six-party talks.
In particular, he emphasized that it is the behest of President Kim Il Sung to denuclearize the peninsula.
Jimmy Carter made an apology to Kim Yong Nam for American Gomes’ illegal entry into the DPRK and gave him the assurance that such case will never happen again on behalf of the government and the ex-president of the U.S. He asked Kim Yong Nam to convey to General Secretary Kim Jong Il a message courteously requesting him to grant special pardon to Gomes to leniently forgive him and let him go home.
After receiving a report on the request made by the U.S. government and Carter, Kim Jong Il issued an order of the chairman of the DPRK National Defence Commission on granting amnesty to Gomes, an illegal entrant, pursuant to Article 103 of the Socialist Constitution of the DPRK.
Carter expressed deep thanks for this.
Earlier, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of State for Consular Affairs and his party visited Pyongyang from August 9 to 11 in connection with the case of Gomes and met officials of the Foreign Ministry and a relevant legal body of the DPRK.
The DPRK side took measures as an exception to ensure that they met Gomes three times and confirmed his condition. The U.S. side offered gratitude for these humanitarian measures.
The measure taken by the DPRK to set free the illegal entrant is a manifestation of its humanitarianism and peace-loving policy.
During the visit Carter and his party met and had an open-hearted discussion with the DPRK’s foreign minister and vice foreign minister for U.S. affairs on the DPRK-U.S. relations, the resumption of the six-party talks, the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and other issues of mutual concern.
They also enjoyed a performance given by the State Symphony Orchestra.
The Pyongyang visit paid by Jimmy Carter, ex-president of the U.S., provided a favorable occasion of deepening the understanding and building confidence between the two countries.
UPDATE 13: 8/25/2010 – Jimmy Carter has arrived in Pyongyang for the second time in his life.
UPDATE 11: According to All Headline News:
The United States confirmed on Monday that a four-person team visited Pyongyang recently to meet with 30-year-old Aijalon Gomes, who has been held captive since January.
Asked to comment on the visit, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told journalists, “It was a four person team: one consular official, two doctors, and a translator. We requested permission to visit Mr. Gomes. That permission from the North Korean Government was granted. The basis of the trip was simply our ongoing concerns about Mr. Gomes’s health and welfare.”
“They (the team from the State Department, Washington) were in Pyongyang from August 9 through August 11. I believe they returned on August 12,” said Crowley, adding, “They visited him (Gomes) in a hospital.”
Crowley said that although the U.S. and Swedish officials on its behalf, “requested permission to bring Mr. Gomes home,” adding, “Unfortunately, he remains in North Korea.”
“We have had conversations directly with North Korea on this issue. We have encouraged them to release Mr. Gomes on humanitarian grounds and we will continue to have that direct conversation with North Korea as needed,” Crowley noted.
UPDATE 10: US in direct contact with DPRK re: Gomes (Daily NK)
UPDATE 9: (2010-7-19) Robert Park has apparently broken his silence to speak out for Gomes. According to KOLD News 13 (Tucson, AZ):
For the first time since his release from North Korea, Tucsonan Robert Park is speaking out.
He’s speaking out now to send a message about Aijalon Gomes, a U.S. citizen who’s currently being held in North Korea.
“He’s a wonderful man,” Park said. “He’s a very good friend of mine.”
Gomes, a Boston resident, crossed into North Korea one month after Park did. Gomes has been sentenced to eight years in a North Korean labor camp. But North Korea has recently threatened to increase that punishment, by invoking the country’s “wartime law,” citing growing tensions with the U.S.
It’s still not clear exactly why Gomes entered North Korea, but based on limited communications with his friend, Park believes it’s because of him.
“He was very concerned about me,” said Park, who added that crossing into North Korea was uncharacteristic for Gomes. “He was so concerned that (I) was dead, so that’s why he took this risk and he just went in.”
Park says he’s now going on a hunger strike to raise awareness and urgency about Gomes’ situation.
“I’m on the third day of my hunger strike,” he said. “I plan to not consume any food until he is released, even if that means my death.”
Park is also urging Americans to contact lawmakers to intervene.
“If you would please contact your government leaders and plead with them, raise awareness with them concerning Aijalon Gomes’s case, and ask that they make a direct visit.”
UPDATE 8: KCNA reports Gomes attempted suicide:
American Prisoner Attempts Suicide
Pyongyang, July 9 (KCNA) — American Gomes serving a prison term in the DPRK recently attempted to take his own life, according to information available from a relevant organ.
Driven by his strong guilty conscience, disappointment and despair at the U.S. government that has not taken any measure for his freedom, he attempted to commit suicide. He is now given first-aid treatment at a hospital.
The Swedish embassy here representing the U.S. interests acquainted itself with the condition of the patient at the hospital.
According to the New York Times:
In April, North Korea sentenced Mr. Gomes to eight years of hard labor and fined him the equivalent of $700,000 for entering the country illegally and for “hostile acts.”
North Korea recently threatened to increase the punishment for Mr. Gomes under the country’s “wartime law,” saying worsening tensions with the United States had created a warlike situation on the Korean Peninsula.
Mr. Gomes’s motivation for entering North Korea is unclear. He had been teaching English in South Korea before his arrest in the North. In late April, he was allowed to speak to his mother by telephone.
North Korea said it would use “wartime law” against the 30-year-old if the US continued its “hostile approach” over the sinking of a South Korean warship.
According to North Korea’s state news agency, US requests to free Gomes will not be accepted while the dispute over the sinking of the warship continues.
Instead the Korean Central News Agency says “there remains only the issue of what harsher punishment will be meted out to him”.
“If the US persists in its hostile approach, the latter will naturally be compelled to consider the issue of applying a wartime law to him,” state media reported.
Analysts say “wartime law” could mean a life sentence or the death penalty.
UPDATE 6: Gomes has phoned home. According to the AP (4/30/2010):
An American imprisoned in North Korea was allowed to speak to his family by telephone Friday, state media said.
North Korea sentenced Aijalon Mahli Gomes to eight years of hard labor and fined him $700,000 in early April for entering the country illegally in January and for an unspecified “hostile act.”
Gomes, from Boston, was the fourth American detained by North Korea for illegal entry in less than a year. He had been teaching English in South Korea.
The official Korean Central News Agency reported that Gomes spoke with family on Friday. The call was allowed after Gomes asked “for a phone contact with his family for his health and other reasons,” the report said.
The brief dispatch from North Korea’s capital Pyongyang provided no further details on the call.
KCNA also said Gomes had contact in prison with a Swedish Embassy official to whom he handed a “written petition.” The report said that happened before the phone call but wasn’t specific.
The United States and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations, and Sweden handles U.S. interests in the North.
UPDATE 5: Gomes has been sentenced. According to the BBC:
North Korea has sentenced a US citizen to eight years’ hard labour for illegally entering the country, state news agency KCNA has said.
The man, named as 30-year-old Aijalon Mahli Gomes, from Boston, admitted his wrongdoing in court, KCNA reported.
Gomes had worked as an English teacher in South Korea, and reportedly crossed the border from China on 25 January.
Swedish diplomats were allowed to attend the trial, as the US has no diplomatic presence in North Korea.
Gomes, described by colleagues as a devout Christian, was also fined 70 million won ($700,000; £460,000 at the official exchange rate). It is not clear why he entered North Korea.
Despite the jail sentence, analysts suggested Gomes could be freed before too long as Pyongyang tries to improve bilateral relations with the US.
“The North is not going to hold him for eight years,” Professor Kim Yong-Hyun of Seoul’s Dongguk University told the AFP news agency.
“It is likely to suspend the implementation of the sentence and expel him as a goodwill gesture toward the United States.”
Gomes was the fourth American citizen to be accused of entering the country in the past year. In February, North Korea freed Robert Park, who had entered the country from China by walking over a frozen river.
He had reportedly wanted to highlight human rights issues in North Korea, but was said before his release to have admitted his “mistake”.
Last year two US journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, were also arrested by North Korea on the border with China.
They were sentenced to 12 years’ hard labour but freed in August after four months in captivity, as part of a diplomatic mission spearheaded by former US President Bill Clinton.
According to KCNA:
Central Court Gives American to 8 Years Hard Labor
Pyongyang, April 7 (KCNA) — A trial of Aijalon Mahli Gomes, male U.S. citizen, was held at a court of justice of the Central Court of the DPRK on Tuesday.
An examination was made of the hostile act committed against the Korean nation and the trespassing on the border of the DPRK against which an indictment was brought in and his guilt was confirmed according to the relevant articles of the criminal code of the DPRK at the trial. On this basis, the court sentenced him to eight years of hard labor and a fine of 70 million won.
The accused admitted all the facts which had been put under accusation.
The presence of representatives of the Swedish embassy here to witness the trial was allowed as an exception at the request of the Swedish side protecting the U.S. interests.
UPDATE 4: ROK Drop gets the drop on Gomes, the 4th American to “illegally enter” the DPRK in the last 4 years.
UPDATE 3: The Swedish Embassy has been granted to the unnamed second American. According to Reuters:
North Korea has allowed Swedish diplomats to visit a U.S. citizen detained nearly two months ago after allegedly entering the country from China, the U.S. State Department said on Monday.
“We can confirm that on March 14 the DPRK (Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea) granted the Swedish embassy, our protecting power, consular access to a detained U.S. citizen,” said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.
Crowley declined to provide any further information about the U.S. citizen. Sweden represents U.S. interests in Pyongyang in the absence of formal diplomatic relations.
The United States said in January that North Korea had informed it that it was holding the American, but since then has provided no information about the case.
North Korea’s official news agency said the American was detained after crossing into its territory from China, accusing him of “trespassing” and saying he was under interrogation.
South Korean news reports have said the border-crosser was a 28-year-old man who said he entered the socialist North because no longer wanted to live in the capitalist world.
UPDATE 2: According to the Choson Ilbo:
The evangelical activist freed by North Korea after 43 days in detention returned to the U.S. looking thin and pale and burst into tears when he met his parents. Acquaintances say it was a noticeable change from the excitable Robert Park they knew, who walked into North Korea on Christmas Eve on a mission to convert the regime, which he apparently believed came straight from God.
Before he was freed, Park (28) was paraded before the North Korean media, reciting a nonsensical apology that blamed the error of his ways on “false propaganda” in the West and accepted that North Korea “guarantees the freedom” of all its people.
What had happened? A former senior North Korean official who defected to the South said, “Ninety-nine percent of these so-called press conferences in the North are faked through torture and coercion.”
The State Security Department is in charge of such cases. Investigators from the psychological warfare office reportedly attempt to penetrate the inner world of detainees or suspects through an alternate series of torture and conciliatory persuasion. The investigators keep the detainees awake until they surrender.
But if Park was scared in the North, it would have been nothing compared to what North Korean dissidents suffer. Still, anybody from the free world would feel a lot more panic if they experience torture, however mild it is considered in the North.
North Koreans are said to shudder in horror at the mere mention of the underground prisons of the State Security Department, because unimaginable brutality is committed there. Once the department finishes investigation, detainees are transferred to another agency codenamed “No. 3 Building.”
Those who have been sufficiently scared are supposed to read out a script or act as directed in a staged press conference. Jang Hae-sung, a former reporter for Korean Central Television who defected to the South, recalled that when he worked in Pyongyang, he saw a fake press conference for kidnapped South Korean fishermen. At the time, the press conference hall was jam-packed with government agents involved in South Korean affairs. The press conference went on exactly according to a script, he said.
UPDATE 1: Robert Park was released. Here are the relevant KCNA articles:
DPRK Decides to Release American Trespasser
Pyongyang, February 5, 2010 (KCNA) — As already reported, the relevant organ of the DPRK conducted an investigation into Robert Park, an American national who was caught for trespassing on the northern border of the DPRK.
According to the results of the investigation, he trespassed on the border due to his wrong understanding of the DPRK.
The relevant organ of the DPRK decided to leniently forgive and release him, taking his admission and sincere repentance of his wrong doings into consideration.
American Trespasser Interviewed
Pyongyang, February 5, 2010 (KCNA) — As already reported, American national Robert Park was detained for trespassing on the northern border of the DPRK in December last year.
He was interviewed by KCNA at his proposal while he was under investigation by the relevant organ of the DPRK.
At the interview, he said that he was taken in by the false rumor spread by the West and committed a criminal act in the end.
He went on to say:
I trespassed on the border due to my wrong understanding of the DPRK caused by the false propaganda made by the West to tarnish its image.
The West is massively feeding “Children of Secret State“, “Seoul Train” and other documentary videos with stories about non-existent “human rights abuses” and “mass killings” in the DPRK and “unbearable sufferings” of its Christians and the like.
This false propaganda prompted me, a Christian, to entertain a biased view on the DPRK.
So I didn’t know what to do at that time. I just prayed and fasted and that was my initial response, but year by year more news reports, international media reports came and there were more videos saying the same thing, in fact, saying that it was getting worse, and so that’s why I started to become more and more distraught. If there are people in concentration camps, if Christians are dying like this, if there is starvation I have to die with them. If I help them I would go to Heaven but if I don’t help them I would go to Hell.
At last I made up my mind to go to the DPRK.
Upon trespassing on the border, I thought I would be either shot to death by soldiers or thrown behind bars, prompted by Americans’ false propaganda about the DPRK.
However, the moment I trespassed on the border, the attitude of soldiers toward the trespasser made me change my mind.
Not only service personnel but all those I met in the DPRK treated me in a kind and gentlemanly manner and protected my rights.
I have never seen such kind and generous people.
People have been incredibly kind and generous here to me, very concerned for my physical health as never before in my life. I mean, my family, of course, is concerned about my physical health but people here have been constantly concerned and I’m very thankful for their love.
Another shocking fact I experienced during my stay in the DPRK is that the religious freedom is fully ensured in the DPRK, a reality different from what is claimed by the West.
Being a devout Christian, I thought such things as praying are unimaginable in the DPRK due to the suppression of religion.
I, however, gradually became aware that I was wrong.
Everybody neither regarded praying as something unusual nor disturbed it. I was provided with conditions for praying everyday as I wished.
What astonished me more was that a bible was returned to me.
This fact alone convinced me that the religious freedom is fully ensured in the DPRK.
I came to have stronger belief as I had an opportunity to attend the service in the Pongsu Church (Location here) in Pyongyang.
I worshipped and there, there was the Jondosa, there, there was a pastor, there was a choir, they knew the hymns, they knew the word of God. That’s why I was completely amazed. But I began to weep and weep in the Christian service because I learned that there are churches and Christians such as Pongsu Kyohoe (Church) in different cities and regions all throughout the DPRK. They worship, pray and preach freely the word of the Bible and Christ word. I’ve learned that in the DPRK people can read and believe whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want, that there’s complete religious freedom for all people everywhere throughout the DPRK.
What I have seen and heard in the DPRK convinced me that I misunderstood it. So I seriously repented of the wrong I committed, taken in by the West’s false propaganda.
I would not have committed such crime if I had known that the DPRK respects the rights of all the people and guarantees their freedom and they enjoy a happy and stable life.
I have felt shock, embarrassment, shame. Here I’m in the lands where people respect human rights and, not just respecting human rights, they have actually loved me and showed me more than just human rights. They have shown me grace. I repent and ask for forgiveness to the DPRK for my misunderstanding totally DPRK’s reality and my criminal illegal behavior. Had I known the reality of the DPRK, what I’ve learned here, what I have been shown here, what I’ve been taught here, what I’ve been informed here by all the kind people here about the DPRK, I would have never done what I did on the December 25th and I repent and I’m very sorry.
Prompted by my desire to redeem the crime I committed against the government of the DPRK, I would make every effort to let those who misunderstand the DPRK properly know what I experienced here so they may have a correct understanding of it.
He, as a Christian, expressed his will to earnestly pray so reunification may be achieved and peace settle on the Korean Peninsula as early as possible.
ORIGINAL POST: According to KCNA:
American Trespasser Detained
Pyongyang, January 28 (KCNA) — An American was detained for trespassing on the border of the DPRK with China on Jan. 25.
He is now under investigation by an organ concerned.
The 28-year-old American man wants to work for North Korea’s army, the Korean-language newspaper said, citing an unidentified source.
The U.S. State Department confirmed yesterday that North Korea detained a U.S. citizen this week, the second American known to be held by the isolated communist nation. The identity of the American and the reasons for his detention aren’t known, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters in Washington.
And from the AP:
[State Department spokesman P.J. ] Crowley said the U.S. is seeking through Swedish government intermediaries to gain access to the detainee to verify the person’s condition and details of the incident. The Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang represents U.S. interests there; Washington has no diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.
The spokesman said he had no idea why the North Koreans provided so little information about the latest case.
“You continue to try to get me to explain what’s happening in North Korea, and I can’t,” Crowley told reporters.