Although there is good news of a sort today involving Boston-bred English teacher Aijalon Mahli Gomes, who was sentenced by North Korea on April 7th to eight years of hard labor and more than $700,000 U.S. in fines for illegally crossing into the country on January 25th, 2010, a small group of supporters continue to wonder why there has not been more of an outcry about his situation and a rallying of support. The main reason comes down, quite simply, to the timing of his actions.
Gomes is the fourth American trespasser captured by North Korea in the space of a year. Regardless of his Christian intentions, he chose to trek across the Tumen River after not one but two previous incidents showed the severity of the consequences for such action (Laura Ling and Euna Lee, March 17th, 2009; Robert Park, Christmas Day, 2009).
The case of Ling and Lee proved how merciless the North Korean government could be under the best of circumstances, while the capture of Robert Park and early reports of his treatment by border guards (before Gomes crossed) underlined how things might transpire without the benefit of a fifth estate halo. Anyone choosing to cross into North Korea after these incidents as an American, as Gomes did, leaves the public feeling little sympathy for his actions.
Does this mean Senator John Kerry and others should stop banging the humanitarian drum on his behalf? Of course not. But Gomes supporters should understand that the absence of a bigger outcry comes from not only the harsh punishment meted out to his immediate predecessors, but also the apparent futility of Park‘s efforts. The human rights crusader did himself great personal harm and allowed North Korea to trumpet out false PR claims to the brainwashed masses, reportedly remaining silent since for possible fear of impacting Gomes‘ situation. That is most definitely, though unintended, a double negative.