Friday, April 09, 2010

Human Rights Watch on sentencing of Aijalon Mahli Gomes

Human Rights Watch comments on the incarceration and sentencing of Aijalon Mahli Gomes:

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. The North Korean authorities did not indicate whether Gomes had legal counsel of his choice and was given an opportunity to mount a legal defense, whether the court proceedings were translated for him, or whether he will be able to appeal the ruling.

North Korea's judiciary is neither transparent nor independent. All judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and people's jury members are appointed by the ruling Korea Workers' Party. Some North Korean refugees have told Human Rights Watch that even when defense lawyers are allowed, their role is perfunctory at best.

In early February, Robert Park, a Korean-American missionary, was released from North Korea. Park had illegally entered North Korea on December 25 to appeal to Kim to end human rights violations. South Korean media reported that Gomes, a former English teacher in South Korea, had attended rallies in South Korea calling for Park's release. Friends of Gomes in South Korea told the media that he was a devout Christian and had probably entered North Korea in January in support of Park.

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