Friday, June 25, 2010

North Korea links its case against American Aijalon Mahli Gomes to U.S. criticism of Pyongyang

North Korea threatened to increase punishment of an American who 2 months ago was sentenced to hard labor for illegally entering the country. Aijalon Mahli Gomes, from Boston, now has his case linked to U.S. criticism of Pyongyang over the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship.

Gomes was sentenced in April to eight years of hard labor and fined $700,000 for entering the country illegally and for an unspecified "hostile act." Prior to crossing into North Korea, Gomes had attended rallies in Seoul in support of Robert Park, a fellow Christian who also deliberately crossed into North Korea from China to call attention to the North's human rights record.

The North is examining what harsher measures to take against Gomes under a wartime law, and would be compelled to consider applying the law if the U.S. persists in its "hostile approach," the official Korean Central News Agency reported Thursday.

North Korea has recently freed three other Americans detained for illegal entry, but ruled out Gomes' release amid tensions over the March sinking of a South Korean warship, the Cheonan, that Seoul and Washington have blamed on the North.

"The U.S. government is requesting (North Korea) to leniently set him free on humanitarian grounds, but such a thing can never happen under the prevailing situation. There remains only the issue of what harsher punishment will be meted out to him," KCNA said.

An expert on North Korean legal affairs said the threat could be a tactic to head off U.S. sanctions over the ship sinking. "The North is using Gomes as a negotiating card as it knows that the U.S. will not sit idly by about him," said Choi Eun-suk, a professor at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University in Seoul.

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