Two American citizens have been arrested under dubious circumstances while travelling with legitimate visas in North Korea within the last calendar year. The latest, a veteran from Palo Alto, California, was allegedly detained last month.
The San Jose Mercury News has identified Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old Korean War veteran, former high school teacher, and former chair of Palo Alto's American Red Cross chapter, as the second American citizen arrested in North Korea this year. The charges against him are so far unclear.
Last night Reuters reported an "elderly man" was detained after entering the country with a valid tourist visa, citing the Kyodo News Service. North Korea News corroborated the story with an unnamed diplomat in Kyodo, who said the elderly American entered North Korea for sightseeing in October. The Mercury-News reports Newman entered North Korea with a neighbor through a Beijing-based tour business. Newman was reportedly removed from the plane when he was leaving the country on October 26. What happened to the neighbor is unclear.
The State Department has not yet confirmed Newman's arrest. "We are aware of reports that a U.S. citizen was detained in North Korea, but we have no additional information to share at this time," spokesperson Nolan Barkhouse told Reuters.
Kenneth Bae, a 44-year-old American citizen, was arrested last November. He was a tour guide and evangelical missionary based out of China for several year prior to his detention. Bae was accused of orchestrating a Christian plot to overthrow supreme leader Kim Jong-Un's regime, and sentenced to 15 years hard labor. Bae's mother was permitted to visit North Korea recently to visit her imprisoned, ailing son.
In August, the State Department was invited to send its leading North Korea diplomat, Bob King, to the country for the first time in two years, to bargain Bae's release. North Korea rescinded the invitation at the last possible minute.