Friday, October 29, 2010

Activist Detained in North Korea

SEOUL: An evangelical activist from the US state of Arizona, imprisoned by North Korea last year after he illegally entered the country on Christmas Day, has appeared on South Korean television and spoken for the first time about how his captors treated him.

Mr Robert Park, 29, who was released in February after 43 days of detention, gave a harrowing account of his imprisonment, which he said included beatings, torture and sexual abuse.

'The scars and wounds of the things that happened to me in North Korea are too intense,' the Korean-American said in an interview with the South Korean broadcaster KBS. In the interview, which was broadcast on Wednesday, he said some of the abuse was sexual in nature, but refused to provide details.

'What happened was very humiliating. You know... there is damage that is, maybe, permanent,' he said, calling the abuse 'devastating'.

'As a result of what happened to me in North Korea, I've thrown away any kind of personal desire. I will never, you know, be able to have a marriage or any kind of relationship.'

Mr Park said he attempted suicide soon after he returned to the United States. He told the magazine Christianity Today that he had been 'in and out' of psychiatric hospitals for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Last December, he had crossed into North Korea by walking over the frozen Tumen River, which forms the border with China. He carried only a Bible and some letters urging North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to close prison labour camps in the North, free all its prisoners and resign.

Analysts in Seoul say such personal affronts to Mr Kim are forbidden in the North and, typically, draw long prison terms or death sentences. Mr Park had told friends in Seoul, before he left, that he would die with political prisoners in the North if Mr Kim refused to free them.

Early this year, Mr Park had read a confession on North Korean TV, after which officials said they 'decided to leniently forgive and release him, taking his admission and sincere repentance of his wrongdoings into consideration', according to a report then by the North's official news agency, KCNA.

Nearly nine months after his release and back in the Korean peninsula for a visit to Seoul, he said the confession and contrition were extracted with force. 'My only regret is... the false confession,' he told The Associated Press in an interview in Seoul. 'People start to know how evil North Korea was and they know the confession was a lie. They knew the confession was false.'

Mr Park also said that he had a new appreciation of the harshness and cynicism of the North Korean government, which he vowed to devote his life to fighting. North Korea, long criticised for alleged human rights abuses, has been accused of carrying out public executions and maintaining an extensive network of political prison camps where torture is thought to be common.

Mr Park's account of his detention, however, stands in contrast to those of the three other Americans who have been detained and subsequently released by North Korea since early last year. The three of them did not say they were tortured.

Mr Aijalon Gomes, 31, who reportedly was following Mr Park's example when he crossed into North Korea, was treated 'superbly', according to doctors who examined him in Boston after his release.

Journalists Laura Ling, 33, and Euna Lee, 37 - who contend they were on the Chinese side of the border when they were detained - recounted more difficult conditions, including being forced to confess to crimes and being kept in cramped, dark rooms. But they have not alleged any abuse.

All three were released following the visits of former American presidents to North Korea.