Sunday, July 11, 2010

Washington's Swedish proxies in Pyongyang visit Aijalon Mahli Gomes

After news reports from North Korea's KCNA of a suicide attempt by Aijalon Mahli Gomes, a US citizen being held in the DPRK for following in the footsteps of fellow evangelist and friend Robert Park by traipsing into North Korea with a message of piece and that Kim Jong-il should get the hell out of Dodge, Washington decided it might be a good idea to check up on this guy.

And since we don't have an embassy or consulate in North Korea, we sent our representatives, the Swedes... er, the North Koreans sent the Swedes:
The United States on Friday disclosed that a diplomat from Sweden, representing U.S. interests in North Korea, was asked to visit a U.S. citizen jailed in North Korea, who reportedly tried to commit suicide.

U.S. State Department Spokesman Mark Toner told journalists at a briefing that the Swedish diplomat was requested by the North Korean regime to visit detained Aijalon Mahli Gomes.

“Today, on July 9th, at the request of the DPRK, Swedish diplomats in Pyongyang visited Mr. Gomes in their capacity as the U.S. protecting power in North Korea,” Toner said.

Asked to comment on the condition of Gomes and his whereabouts, Toner declined citing privacy considerations.

Toner said the United States is concerned about Gomes' welfare and reiterated call for his immediate release on humanitarian grounds, saying, “We reiterate our urge for the North Korean Government to release Mr. Gomes on humanitarian grounds.”
It's a good sign that Pyongyang not only allowed the visit, but they requested it. In fact, I think it's a sign that they're preparing to slough him off. Dead men may tell no tales, but they also make lousy bargaining chips. (Except for Korean War MIAs and KIAs, but I don't mean that in a derisive or mean-spirited way, even though it's clear that Pyongyang cynically uses the search for their remains as a ploy to extract hard currency from Washington.)

Over at ROK Drop, frequent commenter Chicken Head wonders why we've heard so little about Mr Gomes vis-à-vis others, like Mr Park or Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who have ended up in the North Korea:
I’m curious… Why the complete media blackout compared to Ling/Lee?

Aijalon Mahli Gomes went to North Korea with more open, honest and pure intentions… yet the MSM is as quiet as a nun’s fart.

It would almost seem that a track record of elitist-leftist support is more important than intentions based on silly concepts like freedom or human rights.
A fair question. While I'm not so certain we can automatically assume the "honest and pure intentions" of Mr Gomes (certainly his mentor seems to have a Messiah complex of sorts, and it's not at all implausible that either or both would seek book deals after their ordeal is over), I think it's reasonable to assume that Laura Ling's sister's political and media connections played a very big role in publicizing her plight and getting something done. She makes that point herself in the book they co-wrote.

But I don't think that's all there is to it. For starters, there isn't really a "complete media blackout," as Chicken Head describes it. I've written two stories in as many days about him because he has been in the media (the second is here). The media tends to report what comes down the pipeline, and a big part of the answer to that question is that Mr Gomes's people have not been as effective (and perhaps haven't been trying to be as effective) at publicizing Aijalon's case as Laura Ling's family had been.

Even in that particular case, if it had been just Euna Lee that was imprisoned, not Laura Ling, there may have been considerably less publicity, even though Ms Lee works for the same "elitist-leftist" news outlet.

Another factor is that Mr Gomes is not a first of any significant kind. He is not the first American in a long time to be imprisoned in the north, as were Evan Hunziker in 1996 and the Lee-Ling team in 2009. Nor is he the first American to voluntarily walk into North Korea to demand human rights from the DPRK; that would be Robert Park.

So his story is important enough to report on when new news comes down the wire, but not important enough to follow on a daily basis, à la the BP oil spill, where no news is also news. If you want to change this, you must convince his family or his church or some other related group to do news-making events.

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