August 24, 2010
North Korea to Release Christian Activist
Former president Jimmy Carter is on his way to secure Aijalon Mahli Gomes's freedom.
The North Korean government says they will free a Christian activist they sent to prison in April—as long as former President Jimmy Carter is the one who comes to get him.
Gomes received an 8-year "hard labor" sentence in April after crossing the border into North Korea from China three months earlier. Observers at the time said that North Korea wanted to use Gomes as bargaining leverage in the ongoing wrangle with the U.S. over their nuclear program. Officially, the Obama administration will only engage with North Korea if they come back to the table in the ongoing six-party talks over their nuclear program.
The White House characterizes Carter’s trip as “a private humanitarian effort” by a private citizen. Former President Bill Clinton undertook a similar effort to secure the freedom of two journalists who faced a hard labor sentence when they crossed over into North Korea last year.
Gomes is the fourth American in the last year to get caught crossing China’s border into North Korea the New York Daily News reported. CT previously reported on Robert Park, a 28-year-old Korean-American who visited the closed communist state over Christmas. While teaching English in South Korea, Gomes reportedly attended the same church as Park, Every Nation Church of Korea in Seoul.
Carter is expected to leave today and return to the U.S. with Gomes by Friday.
Update: According to current reports, President Carter is in North Korea, but North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is not. Speculation has it that Kim is taking his son and heir apparent, Kim Jong-eun, to China to introduce him to the leaders of North Korea's strongest ally. There is no indication that Carter and Kim met before Kim left.