An American has been sentenced to eight years of hard labor and fined $700,000 for entering North Korea.
Reports suggest that Aijalon Mahli Gomes, 30, who had taught English in South Korea, was inspired by Robert Park, a Christian who walked into North Korea from China on Christmas day to "proclaim Christ's love and forgiveness" and call for leader Kim Jong Il to step down. Park was released in February without charge. The Associated Press reports that Gomes attended rallies in Seoul in support of Park, and Gomes was arrested one month after Park entered North Korea.
Former colleagues told the AFP that Gomeswas a deeply religious person. "He acted like an evangelist. He took the trouble to commute to Seoul to participate in Wednesday prayer sessions at a foreigners' church there," a teacher said. Senator John Kerry has called for his release, the Boston Globereports.
Professor Sung-Yoon Lee, a North Korean expert at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, said he viewed the huge fine for Gomes as a "signal that North Korea is willing to negotiate and get some money for releasing Mr. Gomes.''
"A lot of North Korea watchers may criticize this foolhardy, risky move by Park and Gomes because it raises thorny issues of having to pay ransom or make some kind of concession,'' Lee said.
"But people like Gomes and Park embody a powerful human presence — the willingness to take a great risk and sacrifice themselves. . . . I think this kind of daring move will come to be viewed as, if not heroic, then certainly courageous in the long run,'' Lee added.