Who is the American slated to face trial in North Korea?
Details are emerging about Aijalon Mahli Gomes, the American who will face trial in North Korea after having crossed into the country 'illegally.' From Boston, he had been teaching English in South Korea.
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His name is Aijalon Mahli Gomes, he’s 30 years old, he’s from Boston, and at least until a year or so ago, he was in South Korea teaching English, the modus vivendi for thousands of young and not-so-young foreigners sojourning there.
Now the question is whether Mr. Gomes, like Robert Park, the Christian missionary who entered North Korea on Christmas Eve, was on an evangelical mission – or as a sympathizer with the regime of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il.
Colleagues at the school where he taught in Pocheon, a small city northeast of Seoul, have described him as “evangelical,” so much so that he went into Seoul regularly for services at a church there.
Teachers at the school where he taught have described him variously as “calm,” “quiet,” “polite,” even “mellow,” and no one recalled the fervent religious zeal that motivated Mr. Park to go to the North with a plea for Mr. Kim to shut down the gulag in which thousands of political prisoners are held and free them all.
Still, Gomes’s mission may have been evangelical – though not necessarily critical of the regime. “He sounds like he's another slightly unhinged Christian like Robert Park,” says Aidan Foster-Carter, honorary fellow at Leeds University and a longtime analyst of the Korean scene. Gomes’s given names, Aijalon Mahli, come from a biblical name and a locale.
After North Korea announced Monday that he had been indicted “as his crime has been confirmed,” however, there was concern that he might be subjected to the same pressures that Park evidently endured.
Park, before he was freed after being held for 43 days, issued a statement recanting all his criticism of the regime. He said he had been “misled” but has refrained from talking since his release about what changed his mind.