The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said in a brief dispatch Tuesday that the American was detained and under investigation after illegally entering through the North Korea-China border last Thursday. [AP]
I suppose this comes as no surprise. The North Koreans don’t identify Robert Park by name, but I think we can assume it’s him.
You don’t have to agree with Park’s methods to pity him now. There are two theories here: one, that North Korea will want to use Park as a bargaining chip and will keep him in what passes for a gilded cage in North Korea. That was the theory I’d inclined to when I gave this interview, but Tim Peters — Tim is one of those rare people I consider a hero — added a point that chills me:
Tim Peters, an activist in Seoul who knows Mr Park, tried to persuade him against the plan, which he characterised as “reckless”. “I found out about Robert’s plan three days before he left for China,” he said in an interview. “By that time, however, he already turned off his cellphone and was not responding to e-mails any longer.
“I completely acknowledge that Robert Park’s heart was very much in the right place, which I have to make very clear. But I personally disagree whether that will necessarily be an effective way.
With Mr Park in custody, observers said, North Korean authorities will want to extract any information he may have about missionaries in China and others who work underground helping North Korean refugees. “He knows activists in China and throughout north-east Asia,” Mr Peters said.
Clearly Robert Park is a man with his heart in the right place, but who has lost possession of his mind. As indefensibly foolish as his move was, I’m not sure he’s in a state to bear full mental responsibility for it. I don’t think anyone can deny that these are the actions of a troubled person, and that a man of equal devotion and greater judgment would have simply gone to work for the underground railroad, or gone into the business of smuggling in food, radios, bibles, or even guns — for what North Korea needs more than anything else is the capacity to do what people must “when government becomes destructive of these ends.” I fear for Robert Park as I feared for Laura Ling and Euna Lee, but as then, my greater fear now is what he’ll tell his captors.
And as always, Claudia Rosett’s take is worth reading, especially her kind words for this site.
Update, 29 Dec 09:
My co-blogger Dan Bielefeld has a little more about Robert Park’s activism before he crossed into North Korea. Park seems to have been the driving force behind this group, which was one of the groups that participated on this march to Seoul Station and organized some of the events at the station thereafter. I’m not going to relate all of the details now; Dan is busy with other things now but I want to give him the chance to tell the whole story himself when he concludes that other business.
When I look at the pictures of those demonstrations, I’m struck by how few Korean faces there are in those crowds, but also by the obvious sincerity of all those in attendance of all nationalities. Robert Park might have done a lot more good if he’d stayed in Seoul and helped launch balloons, or recruited a few cells of people to expand smuggling routes across the Chicom-North Korean border.
Update 2, 29 Dec 09:
A reader forwards another purported statement by Park. I don’t have reason to doubt it, but can’t confirm it.
Public Statement For the Liberation of All North Koreans
Written by Robert Park of ‘Freedom and Life for All North Koreans’ and Jo Sung Rae of ‘Pax Koreana’ in Korean Just before Robert Park crossed North Korea
Translated into English by Lawyer Suh Suk Koo of ‘American & Friendship National Council Korea Branch
Today We stand here with worldwide conscience to take our responsibility we are facing for freedom and life for all North Koreans.
We appeal the leaders of America, Europe, China, Russia, Japan and the United Nations, and the people everywhere in the world as follows.
We will not allow genocide in North Korea any longer. Over 3 million North Koreans have been starved to death since 1995 while about 250,000 North Koreans have been sacrificed resulting from slave labor, rape, torture, starvation and execution in the Political Concentration Camps.
The existence of Political Concentration Camps is apparent proof to call North Korea regime criminal group violating the human rights declaration of the United Nations.
We strongly urge worldwide leaders disregarding cruel crime of North Korea stop genocide.
We announce our demands according to the human rights declaration of the United Nations and International Laws as follows
1) The Human Rights Declaration of the United Nations and International Law have been regulated to prevent cruel crimes just like atrocity of Nazi Germany never occurring again. Therefore we demand to end all the Political Concentration Camps immediately and to release all the Political Prisoners in North Korea
2) It is a shame that the world has kept silence about the notorious evil North Korea regime worse than Nazi Germany regime. We urge the worldwide democratic leaders feel responsibility disregarding extreme pain of oppressed North Koreans and take internationa; measures for compenation
3) We dare to annoucnce the ending of Kim Jong Il dictator regime and North Korea leaders. Now is the time for worldwide leaders to arrest the worst criminals like dictators and let them be punished in the Judicial Court
4) In the name of cosmopolitan, let pro North Korea leftist powers in South Korea leftist powers in South Korea siding with North Korea dictatorship be arrested immediately and punished through the judgement in the Judicial Court
5) We urge worldwide leaders to provide the human rights and sacrifices of all the North Koreans according to the Universal Human Rights Declaration of the United Nations and International Laws, in Partnership with President Lee Myung Bak and worldwide leaders. It is the problem of conscience more than politics.
Now is the time to take immediate action for the most isolated and persecuted in the world. There are protests dictatorship to seek their rights in North Korea
To the worldwide conscience!
As your action enable to flourish Republic of Korea called the history of miracle,please let North Korea end dictatorship just like Nazi regime and make base for miracle.
Don’t disregard the human rights of North Koreans any longer.
Let us join the glorious march to end chains of persecuted North Koreans.
We urge worldwide leaders, christians and the people everywhere in the world the
message to liberate North Koreans from dictatorship Robert Park gave us to be our mission and our answer to his asking.
Please would you join us the worldwide event COUNTDOWN TO FREEDOM for the liberation of North Koreans. Here in Korea COUNTDOWN TO FREEDOM event will be held in front of MBC in Seoul from 2pm to 6 pm.
We expect you show us your true love to North Koreans and share pains of Robert Park and North Koreans in North Korea at present.
We are sure God gives freedom to North Koreans and Robert Park if our prayer and our love are with all our hearts.
That’s why we invite you.
God bless North Koreans, Robert Park and all the human rights activists joining the event of COUNTDOWN TO FREEDOM!