By BosNewsLife Asia Service
SEOUL/PYONGYANG (BosNewsLife)– North Korea released an American Christian Friday, August 27, seven months after he was detained for illegally entering the reclusive state to protest reported human rights abuses.
Aijalon Gomes smiled as he hugged former U.S. President Jimmy Carter who negotiated his release with North Korean authorities and boarded a plane for Boston on Friday, August, 27, reporters said.
The Carter Center, Carter’s headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, confirmed that the former president has departed Pyongyang with Aijalon Mahli Gomes aboard a private jet.
Carter’s visit came weeks after North Korea said Gomes attempted to commit suicide and was being treated at a hospital. The North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the attempt was “driven by his strong guilty conscience” and despair that the U.S. government had not tried to gain his freedom.
However, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il eventually granted Carter’s request to “leniently forgive” Gomes, for a reunion with his mother, Carter’s spokeswoman Deanna Congileo said, citing official sources.
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KIM IN CHINA
There was no indication that Kim — who was making a surprise trip to China this week — met with Carter as widely anticipated. Carter arrived in North Korea Wednesday on what the United States State Department described as a private mission.
The 30-year-old Gomes was sentenced to eight years hard labor and fined $700,000 for illegally crossing the border. Christian rights activists said he wanted to protest against human rights abuses, including the detention of thousands of Christians in the country in concentration camps.
Christians often suffer as North Korea’s Stalinist system is based on total devotion of the individual to an ideology promoted by the late leader Kim Il Sung and his successor and son, Kim Jong Il, observers who visited the country said.
The ideology largely resembles a religion or cult, and refugees’ accounts say those who oppose it are dealt with severely, often ending up in prison camps. Despite the risks there are believed to be likely tens of thousands of practicing Christians.
Kim Il Sung, the man recruited in 1945 by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to found the Communist North Korean state, stamped out Christianity and the traditional Buddhism and Shamanism.
His ideology, which preaches self-reliance, is known as Juche, of which the late Kim is the central figure – so much so that the North Korean calendar begins with the year of his birth in 1912. One of the tallest structures in Pyongyang is the Juche Tower, built in Juche 70, or 1982
Before leaving for North Korea, Gomes was known to have regularly attended prayer meetings and rallies for North Korean human rights in the United States and reportedly taught English at Choong-eui middle school in Pocheon, South Korea, from 2008-2009.
His colleagues described him as “a devout Christian”.
He was the fourth American in a year arrested for trespassing in North Korea, a communist nation that fought against the U.S. during the 1950-53 Korean War and does not have diplomatic relations with Washington.
His capture followed the detention of Robert Park and the journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, all of whom were released after several months in North Korean custody. (With reporting from North and South Korea and editing by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).