North Korea Says It Has Robert Park (Updated; Another Statement by Park)

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!


  1. I normally have no sympathy for American film crews and misc. operatives who meddle in North Korea. However this good Christian man was acting out of faith and concern about North Koreans. He may be naive and foolish, like street preachers and some Christian missionaires who sacrifice a lot but achieve very little. But he is a good person and should not be held in captivitity, particularly in the light of the fact that it seems he was having mental health problems.

    I doubt the North Korean personell who deal with him will have any knowledge or understanding at all of what motivates him.

    I wish they’d see that the PR points they could win by just releasing him and banning him from entering again are much greater than some information they may or may not extract from him. The idea of using torture on anyone, particularly a would-be missionary is disgusting.

  2. Mr Parks action will probably be pointless, as it’s extremely likely he would have been isolated immediately from any crowds. He probably would have been busted within the hour, brought to a detention centre, where a interogatation ‘procedure’ would start.

    His initial passion, advocacy will probably wear off within a number of days once he realizes he’s gonna spend a helluva long time in a cold isolation cell.

    I think he should have been stopped by his ‘friends’. Anyone hearing him speak can see immediately he is not in a right frame of mind, and probably bordering on delusional.

    Most likely Mr Park is a nobody in his own country, and finds that probably hard to accept. As a way of escapism of this fact, he fantasizes about grand things he can possibly do, thus convincing himself he can bring peace to North Korea – not fully appreciating the actual reality of NK.

    Good luck to him, let’s hope he’ll get deported rather sooner than later, and if he is, he can really thank God for that, as it would be a miracle in its own right.

  3. Such cynicism! Every scenario is plausible other than which his own parents and close associates assert: he is aflame with the love of God and is full of holy compassion for the suffering underground Christian church which is suffering more than any other Church in the world.

    Such as it was when they that persecuted Jesus of Nazareth also accused Him of delusion. I personally know many who are emboldened by Park’s witness to the Christian Faith and they are praying for him and the the underground Church.

  4. To say this is to equate all religious faith with madness. Is that a road you want to go down? Can you honestly say you would actually do what Park did, or couldn’t you find some more productive way to follow God’s calling?

  5. We must leave room for the mysterious will of God, Joshua. By the standard you are using, Noah, Abraham, Moses and the Hebrew Prophets were also mad men. I share your concern that they will try to extract information from him to compromise the underground church/railroad, but I also have seen with my own two eyes right here in Korea that many are inspired by his boldness to confront KJI with the message “repent!”

    Because I wouldn’t do it doesn’t make his prophetic act illegitimate. In my own spehere (you know what that is) I am doing what I can to raise awareness of the plight of the North Koreans among my colleagues. It is taking traction – and this is good. Robert Park has his gift, others have theirs.

    Robert Park’s parents say his zeal and courage are sincere and that he is prepared to die for the suffering North Korean people he loves so much. To people who do not share the Christian faith, that may seem insane. To a man who believes he is following in the footsteps of his Divine Master, death has no power.

    May Robert Park’s actions bring encouragement to the underground Church in the DPRK and inspire all North Koreans to seek the truth.

  6. What he did was crazy and brave at the same time. Of course, if one wants to wittness to the North Koreans and share the Christian faith, it is wise to do it from a safe distance and find more productive means. It is also true that someone with passionate faith can sometimes do things that seem mad to people on the outside and not be concerned about their own safety. I really do hope and pray he can be strong and not give away anything about the underground.

  7. Interestingly enough, I posted the same comment at Claudia Rossetts site, but I just noticed she has removed my post. So much for free speech, eh !

    Let me state that I am not trying to be offensive, but by all reasonable accounts, walking into North Korea is just plain irresponsible.

    Kudos to Joshua and the site for leaving my comment in one piece !

  8. Well, I can’t speak for PJM’s moderation criteria, but I’d like to knock down this idea that it’s somehow an attack on free speech to moderate comments. That’s no more true than it is to say that locking the doors of your house at night violates the Fourth Amendment rights of vandals, burglars, and homeless people. Your free speech right ends at your right to put up your own site. It doesn’t extend to the right to say anything you want — no matter how offensive, inane, or just plain stupid — on a site maintained with someone else’s time and money. I moderate comments here for the very simple reason that I value good comments, and because dumb comments drive them away.

    For what it’s worth, I happen to agree with most of your comment above. Robert Park isn’t going to be sent to Camp 22 and isn’t going to get the same treatment as a North Korean would get, but he probably already regrets what he’s done. And I suspect that a person in his fragile state of mind is likely to break, name names, and eventually come down with a severe case of Stockholm Syndrome. Guys like Robert Park don’t hold up under interrogation.

  9. IMHO, Robert Park’s actions show a deep schism even within the broader Evangelical movement in the Christian church on how to deal with North Korea. Evangelicals, more or less, have the same objective in mind – bringing the traditional gospel message to North Korea. However, the means that are being used cannot be as far apart.

    For instance, (and this is if I’ve interpreted Robert Park’s actions correctly) there are those who wish to bring down the regime … now. I’ve been to some of these prayer meetings where Christians are fervently praying to God to remove Kim Jong Il by any means possible. They see the regime as a roadblock to prosletyzing and take the struggle very much as black and white. Not to say that this is a completely wrong approach – I’d argue it’s difficult to put the concentration camps in any form of moral relativism. However, the actions translated out of these beliefs become very extreme. It’s not the first time I’ve heard Evangelicals talk about crossing the border – in fact, I’ve heard it discussed not more than once in more dramatic terms – ie. hundreds, even thousands of people crossing the border at once. In fact, sometimes I wonder whether Robert Park et al are on the right track. As an individual, Robert Park is somewhat powerless. The argument changes if thousands of Robert Parks did it at the same time.

    On the other hand, there are also Evangelicals who are currently operating within North Korea with the full acquiescence of the regime. The rationale is to create the beachhead – using the carrot of providing basic social services, these churches will already have a foothold on the inside when the house of cards comes tumbling down. Of course, there are other Evangelical churches that are there from a more humanitarian perspective (eg. Kim Jin Hong and the Durae church). The most interesting thing is that the regime is fully aware of why these churches are operating within North Korea. One of the most interesting stories I heard was about a pastor who had established operations inside the DPRK telling me about a time when the North Korean liaison tailing him reminded the pastor that he needed to say grace before he ate his meal, mentioning that “only Christians come to North Korea.”

    I’ve also seen both sides of the argument criticize each other – I’ve seen Evangelicals chastise Kim Jin Hong on the grounds that feeding the North Korean people was equivalent to aiding and abetting the North Korean regime’s survival. On the other hand, despite their sympathies to human rights, the churches that operate within North Korea are very careful not to be associated with human rights groups, lest they endanger their operations within North Korea.

    Are there many roads to Allah? It’s a broad philosophical question that I’m not sure I know the answer to. However, my first kneejerk answer to it would be that I’d tend to support both sides of the argument – both Robert Park’s actions and those of the churches operating in North Korea both contribute to the slow and steady erosion of the North Korean regime’s grasp on its people (and perhaps more importantly, the people’s dependence and willingness to follow the regime) leading to the only way that I see human rights improving within North Korea: with the North Korean people asking for it themselves.

  10. The timing could not be worse either. In the midst of the reported unrest from the currency devaluation, this only adds insult to injury to an already fragile and tense situation in the DPRK. I say this because the authorities have an itchier trigger fingers, and Park walked into more trouble than he probably bargained for. That is saying a lot considering North Korea is brutal enough as it is. I think I am overstating the obvious here.

    North Korean officials do not need another problem on their hands. I agree he will not be sent to some prison camp not only because that will bring even more attention wondering what happened to the guy, but upon release (if he is released) will have a tale to tell. In that case, will the regime tread lightly so he does not have a story to tell, or will they simply shoot the guy so he does not have any tales to tell? I do not have an answer to this, but it seems to me a sticky PR issue. And to the regime, they do not want any indications of any problems such as prison camps, torture, or other things they are well-known for. My guess is, the guy will be kicked out. On the other hand, it is foolhardy on my part to assume anything. After all, this is North Korea.

    Does the guy even want to be freed? I read somewhere he does not want that, but after a few hours of intense questioning, he may change his mind. The State Department mentioned they are concerned about this issue, and I do not know what they will do either. This should be interesting to watch for sure, and maybe that is the whole point of his insane action? I am not too sure.

    I do agree with Joshua he will spill the beans on the activities of the underground. That can cause serious problems. Just thinking about it makes me tremble to the core.

  11. I do not know what a “dumb comment” means, so I tread carefully here. I read this blog almost everyday though and I really appreciate the conversational tone, it is refreshing.

    My gut reaction too all this is nothing that no one hasn’t already said before. I do think Robert Park’s heart is in the right place and only God knows if Robert really did the right thing. I can’t judge that.

    On the surface, his actions seems crazy, but sometimes God asks us to do crazy things – and it’s madness to others.

  12. I dont think many people here undestand this man’s character and it is sad to see websites that are for the unification and freedom of korea speak about him this way. I don’t understand why people consider Park mentally ill or unstable due to his actions. He understood the seriousness and consequences of his actions. His primary reason for doing this was to raise world wide awareness regarding north Koreas crimes against humanity. He was ready to stand up for the north korean people to the point of death.

    As the few argue regarding his actions, condemning and passing judgment there are millions of koreans thanking God for sending one person to openly stand up against such a brutal regime.

    He is the modern David fighting against an incredibly large enemy. Many people scoffed at such a young boy but in the end his faith in God is what set him apart and it will be prove to be true here as well.

  13. I agree that the “he’s done something ‘crazy’; therefore he’s mentally ill” idea is overwrought. Maybe his stunt is the snowflake that starts an avalanche; no one can tell at this point. But like others have mentioned, I am concerned about the possibility that he might inadvertently spill any beans about the underground railroad. God forbid a thousand times that his well-intentioned actions bring further hardship and suffering to the North Korean people.

  14. Yes, and people thought Pastor Lazlo Tokes was insane, too, and his defiance sparked the fall of the Romanian communist dictatorship/cult of personality of Nicolai Ceaucescu:

    …hundreds of parishioners determined to prevent protestant pastor Laszlo Tokes from being evicted by the communist authorities.
    The demonstrations then spread to Bucharest, leading to the bloodiest regime change in Central and Eastern Europe. Some 1,104 people were killed and 3,552 wounded when the army and secret police tried to put down the protests across the country. A member of the Hungarian minority and an outspoken critic of Ceausescu, Tokes has been described as the “spark” of the revolution.

  15. How carefully do people in Northeast China’s underground railroad vet contacts before divulging information? I wonder if Park talked of his desire to enter North Korea and people just dismissed it. It’s easy enough to excuse or explain Park’s actions with the belief that he is mentally ill, but perhaps he understood the risk and took it anyway. Like Ling and Lee, he may not have realized the potential endangerment of others much more vulnerable than he.

  16. It is cowardly to state that you are worried about the “knowledge” of the underground that Park might reveal. Do you not realize the hundreds of North Koreans being sent back to North Korea that have gone through the same underground that Park was helping himself ? The North Korean refugees have more “knowledge” since they are the ones that are actually traveling it.

    China could decide to put heavy pressure on the border if they wanted to. Just like when the US decided to enforce their border stronger. It was not “leaked” information that strengthened their border but the amount of resources poured into the border and the increase of border patrol.

  17. “It is cowardly to state that you are worried about the “knowledge” of the underground that Park might reveal. Do you not realize the hundreds of North Koreans being sent back to North Korea that have gone through the same underground that Park was helping himself ? The North Korean refugees have more “knowledge” since they are the ones that are actually traveling it. “

    Returning North Koreans are much better able to blend in than Korean-American Robert Park and thus less likely to be apprehended. Moreover, the former undertake a much greater personal risk – they’re likely to face the firing squad if caught whereas Park may be ransomed. I wonder if Robert Park and/or the Ling-Lee duo happened to watch that episode of the TV show Alias, in which Jack and Sydney infiltrate North Korea and wander around a bit before some locals finally notice the two whiteys and apprehend them. That was the first and last episode I ever watched.

  18. He worked for homeless, handicaped people before he enter there.
    Someone bought jacket at NK humanrights street demonstration.
    And he gave it to other homeless in 10 minute.
    He walked 1hours to go his house after he gave some money to
    needy. He is person who have full of love.
    He loved handicaped people so much when he volunter.
    He volunted for homeless in Mexico as well.
    He prayed for nk and didnt have food during 15 days before he cross north korea.
    He is not insane but just gentle and warm person.

  19. I don’t doubt that he’s a good human being, Ellen. I’m sure he was motivated by some of the same compassion and frustration and motivates us, but this particular action is likely to do more harm than good.

  20. No, he’s motivated by the compassion of Jesus Christ, not mere human compassion like ‘us’. That is a supernatural gift, and if God sent him, His purposes will be accomplished no matter what Pharoah thinks.

  21. Horace, Robert Park has said as much, and I agree. This is a showdown between good and evil, not the US and the DPRK.

  22. Ellen,

    The road to Hell is paved with good intentions–as the saying goes.

    Consequences–or foreseeable consequences–matter as well as intentions.

  23. Robert Park is a rare human – truly Christlike and absolutely sincere. That does appear to be foolishness and insanity to those who live very carefully or have just been destined to fight against evil in another manner. Moses looked crazy; Stephen in Acts looked crazy; Paul looked crazy (and wrote 2/3 of the New Testament) and of course, Christ Jesus looked crazy. I’ve worked side-by-side with Robert over the past couple of years here in America. He has a different Spirit. He never thinks to eat or of time when ministering to poor, less fortunate people. He’s always helping, giving, taking little or nothing for himself. I once gave him $20 for food or whatever. A week or so later we were purchasing food, water for families living on a dump in Mexico – and Robert produced the same $20 to buy them sustenance. Yes, that sounds real crazy in a materialistic land such as this. He’s a prayer warrior like I’ve rarely seen, in love with the Lord and grateful for his own salvation.
    People on these blogs keep talking as if the governments are so powerful that Robert has no capable ally. He serves Almighty God, who uses nations as pawns to accomplish His purposes in eternity. America WILL come to Robert’s aid if God desires it to do so. NK WILL release Robert if God desires that nation to do so. The underground movement will continue to be protected if it is God’s will, no matter who crosses back to NK with knowledge of its infrastructure. Know this: a mass demonstration is taking place right now and even since many heard Robert crossed into NK. That mass demonstration is before the throne of grace, where it counts most and can rally the greatest power for good. Robert’s act has already made a world of difference. It has rallied thousands to prayer for the afflicted in NK.

    One man already affected nations, governments, and the ages, and continues to do so. His disciples turned the world upside down. Why does anyone expect that Robert Park willingly laying his life on the line for so many precious others can do any less?

  24. Robert’s bold & brave sacrifice serves a reminder to our weak knees. It is told to me, and also from Robert’s letter to Kim Jong II, that Robert carried a dual intent: a call for justice, and the call of Christian faith. Ironic it would be, that genuine Christian faith in the power of Almighty God is the only means today to overcome injustice & suffering in the North. We need not risk in tandem a wishful thinking that men in a dark place have the strength within themselves to make their escape from a deep well. Robert’s testimony will live, while his mission to find justice & reconciliation is deferred. It would have been better to simply deliver the pure life of faith across the Tumen River, in the knowledge that with the message of peace received, better things would follow.

  25. If you won’t take my word for it, then take Carol Moeller’s. Moeller, who heads Open Doors, said this to the Christian Post:

    It is “very, very” unlikely that any good will come to North Korean Christians in the short term from the recent illegal entry of the Korean-American activist, said the president of a ministry that works with persecuted Christians.

    “It is hard for us to know how it will impact the Christians in North Korea,” said Carl Moeller, president/CEO of Open Doors USA, the world’s largest mission agency working on behalf of persecuted Christians.

    “[But] I can say clearly – though I don’t know Mr. Park and I don’t actually understand his motivation for this type of method – the likelihood of it helping the Christians [in North Korea] in the short term is very, very small.”

    Open Doors is one of the Christian groups that has been dedicated to this issue for years, and they’ve been highly effective. He knows, as I do, that Park’s heart may be in the right place, but will still end up doing more harm than good. If nothing else, Park could have contributed his courage and energy to helping others effectively. Now, all of that has vanished into Kim Jong Il’s black hole, but North Koreans are no better off for it.

  26. Whether Mr. Parks actions are “brave, foolish and futile” or “the snowflake that starts the avalanche” is a question that will be determined by the long-term results, or lack thereof. My only hope is that, once those results are seen (or not), those who were wrong or undecided will be honorable enough to reconsider their opinions.

    In my opinion, I don’t think that Mr. Parks is necessarily an extraordinary man. He is an ordinary man who believes something in an extraordinary manner. This is something to be admired only if that which he believes is true, and that has yet to be seen.

  27. Bat Jah mirrors my thoughts.

    Mr. Parks does not seem to be doing anything to receive approval nor reward from man. Rather he seems to genuinely listen to Yeshua, and wants only his reward from God.

    We will probably not see what results his sacrifice bring. However, our Father in heaven will surly hear Roberts love and answer him according to His will.

    I pray daily for Robert’s protection(and those whose lives hang on his words) our Lord promised to those who suffer in His name.

    As a middle aged woman in the weakened feminized US, where Godly brave courageous men are extremely rare; I say praise you Father for blessing us with this rare man!

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