An American has been sentenced to eight years of hard labor and fined the equivalent of $700,000 for illegal entry into North Korea.The story is also carried in the New York Times, Reuters, AP, CNN, Yonhap, the Korea Times, the Joongang Daily, and the Chosun Ilbo.
Aijalon Mahli Gomes, 30, who had taught English in South Korea, is the fourth U.S. citizen in the past year to walk into North Korea from China and get arrested.
Two television journalists received 12-year sentences last June, but were allowed to leave the country after former President Bill Clinton flew to Pyongyang. A missionary who entered North Korea on Christmas Day to protest human rights abuses was released in February after what the government described as his "sincere repentance."
Gomes, also a human rights activist, seems likely to be used by North Korea as a bargaining chip, as it negotiates with the United States and four other countries over the resumption of stalled nuclear disarmament talks.
The Washington Post article notes that Mr Gomes "admitted all the facts which had been put under accusation," much like Mr Park did, so I wonder just how effective this strategy of traipsing into North Korea to challenge the immoral leadership really is.
In fact, I've quite clearly stated that it's detrimental, because, like the incident involving Laura Ling and Euna Lee, it may force the US to give up financial or political capital in order to fish out these wayward Americans.
I will add one important thing, and that is that I think Robert Park should be put on a suicide watch. We have already seen from him several cries for help (see also here), and this could very well be the kind of thing that puts him over the edge. If he sees himself as responsible for his friend being in such a dire predicament, he may not be able to forgive himself.
It is my fervent hope and prayer that nothing happens to Mr Gomes up north. I would actually be surprised if they move him out of the Pyongyang Palazzo and into an actual labor camp — Euna Lee and Laura Ling were sentenced to an ever longer sentence, but they were never moved out of Pyongyang — and the North Koreans probably know it is in their best interest to keep Mr Gomes alive.
And I do not buy the idea that Mr Gomes is in for harsher treatment because he is Black, as the North Koreans will first-and-foremost see him as an American, which leads to a way out for everyone. An expensive toll on that path, but an exit nonetheless.