This weekend will mark the 140th day of North Korean captivity for Boston do-gooder Aijalon Mahli Gomes, who crossed into the country illegally on January 25th, 2010. Like Laura Ling and Euna Lee, he is “somewhere inside”; like the two journalists, he was subjected to a sham trial and handed down a ridiculous sentence, in his case eight years of hard labor and more than $700,000 U.S. in “fines.” But unlike Ling and Lee, who found freedom on their 140th day of detainment, hardly anyone has been talking about Gomes.
In the first of two ALL CAPS emails sent out this week by the camp of fellow former detainee Robert Park, the suggestion of a Bill Clinton-like emissary for Gomes was presented. Park wants supporters to lobby Reverend Franklin Graham, currently on a visit to China, to add a Gomes DPRK freedom mission to his itinerary. The Park camp even offered to pay for both men’s airfare.
Although the circumstances of Park‘s plea were upsetting (another email, dated June 10th, announced that he was being urgently re-admitted to psychiatric hospital), the idea of a grassroots Graham campaign was welcome. Mainly because up until this point, Park has been publicly silent about his brother-in-arms.
Meanwhile, long before the Park emails, a small coterie of Gomes campaigners has been banging the drum on the Bostonian’s behalf, most notably bloggers Victoria Hudgins and Don Sturgill as well as Florida attorney Michael Cavendish. Although it’s tempting to postulate a whole host of reasons for the relative lack of Gomes media coverage, the truth is that even when more of it does occur, the end result is not always as fairy-tale-immediate as it was for Ling and Lee. Just ask the families of the three American hikers detained in Iran.
Still, of the four recent North Korean American detainees, Gomes is the one for whom we have at this late stage the largest amount of grey area. We presently don’t know whether he is in a Pyongyang guest house, an actual North Korea labor camp or even, perish the thought, dead or alive. Compounding the problem is the fact that after some early diplomatic contact, there has been no report of Swedish embassy representatives being allowed to see him again.
At press time, I am still waiting to hear back from the office of Senator John Kerry, who shortly after Gomes was sentenced in April spoke out publicly on his Massachusetts constituent’s behalf. Presumably, Kerry continues to work behind the scenes on Gomes‘ release and if anything is relayed back to me, I will be sure to update this blog posting. But for the moment, sadly, the outlook for Gomes appears grim.
Update – 06/24/10: Via mouthpiece news agency KCNA, North Korea has finally made a move with Gomes, threatening to impose a longer prison sentence or perhaps even the death penalty unless U.S. backs off UN Security Council censure for Cheonan attack. A State Department spokesman has rebuffed these threats, reiterating the U.S. call for Gomes‘ release and insisting his case should be kept separate from any political considerations.