Saturday, May 01, 2010

Aijalon Mahli Gomes phones home from North Korea imprisonment

Aijalon Mahli Gomes, an American imprisoned in North Korea, was allowed to speak to his mother by telephone, but Pyongyang's state media and his family provided few details and no clues whether he would be released.

North Korea's highest court sentenced Gomes to eight years of hard labor and fined him $700,000 on April 6 for entering the country illegally and for an unspecified "hostile act."

The official Korean Central News Agency reported that Gomes spoke with family Friday. The call was allowed after he asked "for a phone contact with his family for his health and other reasons," the report said.

Thaleia Schlesinger, a spokeswoman in Boston for Gomes' family, confirmed Friday that Gomes spoke with his mother on the phone from North Korea. "She was very grateful to have the opportunity to speak with him and hear his voice," said Schlesinger. "She was extremely happy and grateful to the North Korean government for allowing him to call home."

Schlesinger declined to discuss what the two discussed or give details on Gomes' condition.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley called on North Korea to free Gomes. "It is a gesture," he said of the phone call. "But what we want is to see him released on humanitarian grounds."

KCNA also said Gomes had contact in prison with a Swedish Embassy official to whom he handed a "written petition."

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