Human Rights Watch, an independent organization, has spoken out on the plight of Aijalon Mahli Gomes, American citizen and prisoner of North Korea. Following are some excerpts from that article.
The North Korean government’s announcement on the sentencing of Aijalon Mahli Gomes, a US citizen, raises serious concerns about whether his trial was fair, especially given the lack of transparency and extremely harsh punishment for a vaguely worded charge…
“Trials in North Korea are notoriously unfair, and Gomes’ appears to have been no different,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “This whole episode looks like another North Korean charade, with a vague criminal charge and a lack of due process leading to a long prison sentence.”
KCNA announced that Gomes admitted guilt on all charges, but did not provide any additional details to explain the “hostile acts” charge…
“Eight years of hard labor in North Korean prison is an extremely harsh punishment,” Robertson said. “North Korean prisons are notorious for torture, forced labor, chronically insufficient food, and a lack of medical treatment.”
I know of three other Americans held captive by North Korea in the past 12 months. Journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling, sentenced to 12 years hard labor, were released after almost five months of isolation. Former U.S. President, Bill Clinton, had to intervene on their behalf. The photo above shows Euna and Laura arriving home. Euna’s young daughter and husband await her–now, that has got to be tough.
Robert Park spent 43 days as a guest of North Korea, having determined that he would draw attention to alleged human rights violations there. Park was released, having confessed the error of his ways. The Guardian reported it like this:
Park was quoted as saying he had been treated in a “kind and gentlemanly manner”, and explaining that his understanding of North Korea had been tarnished by “false propaganda made by the west. This false propaganda prompted me, a Christian, to entertain a biased view.”
Here is the full account of Robert Park’s confession, as reported by the Korean Central News Agency.
What has me puzzled is that none of them have spoken out publicly about their captivity. Has the U.S. government asked them to hold back? Do they fear reprisal by North Korean agents? Was the emotional pain just too much? Are they waiting on a book deal? Why have they chosen to remain silent–especially since all of them apparently entered the country in order to draw attention to the situation there?
In the case of Robert Park, chatter has him suffering mental torture and being forced into psychiatric treatment. Look, I know only what I have researched and reported about his case. This may or may not be true. Here is a link to some of the talk, from the “One Free Korea” site. All I can say for sure is, “God bless Robert Park.”
Euna Lee and Laura Ling, having been named amongst the “Women of the Year” by Glamour, have often been characterized as “racing for a book deal” (just run a search to see what I mean), and the word is that Random House advanced Euna “six figures” for her work in progress, “The World is Bigger Now: A Memoir of Faith, Family and Freedom.”
Say what you will about Euna, Laura and Robert–my take is that all three were caught doing something that they felt was right and that there is more to their silence than concern about book deals. Speaking of which, the most recent personal account I can find, by one who has been there and back, is Larry Zellers’ In Enemy Hands: A Prisoner in North Korea. He was released in 1953.
I’m thinking that there is more to be heard, and I am hoping that they will each find the freedom and strength to speak it.
For a recent video account of the mysterious country, here is a link to a recent VBS TV documentary.