Former President Jimmy Carter procured the release of 31-year-old American English teacher, Ajilon Gomes, from imprisonment in North Korea. Carter and Gomes left Pyongyang, North Korea, yesterday and Gomes is expected to be reunited with his mother and other family members in Boston today.
At the request of President Carter, and for humanitarian purposes, Mr. Gomes was granted amnesty by the Chairman of the National Defense Commission, Kim Jong-Il, said Deanna Coniglio, spokesperson for the Carter Center in Atlanta, GA.
The government-controlled Korean Central News Agency reported that Kim, the country's dictator, decided to leniently forgive Gomes, who had been sentenced in April to eight years hard labor and fined more than $600,000 for illegally trespassing in North Korea.
KCNA said that Kim's granting of amnesty to Gomes is a manifestation of North Korea's humanitarianism and peace-loving policy.
Gomes, who had been teaching English in South Korea became involved in protests calling for the release of political activist Robert Park, who had deliberately crossed from China into North Korea in December 2009. Park was released after 40 days incarceration after issuing an apology.
Gomes crossed into North Korea from China and was arrested shortly thereafter. Although a supporter of Park, Gomes' own motives for going into North Korea are unclear.
The U.S. State Department had unsuccessfully tried to obtain Gomes' release a few weeks ago.
We welcome the release of Aijalon Mahli Gomes and are relieved that he will soon be safely reunited with his family, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said. We appreciate former President Carter's humanitarian effort and welcome North Korea's decision to grant Mr. Gomes special amnesty and allow him to return to the United States.
Both the State Department and the Carter Center emphasized that Carter is a private citizen and traveled to North Korea without being asked to or sponsored by the U.S. government.
Based on our assessment that Mr. Gomes' health was at serious risk if he did not receive immediate care in the United States, the U.S. Government concurred with former President Carter's decision to accept the North Korean proposal, Crowley said.
Crowley added that the U.S. and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations and that the U.S. has issued a travel warning to U.S. citizens against entering North Korea.
Former President Bill Clinton traveled to North Korea last year and secured the release of two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who had been arrested for trespassing in March 2009.