North Korea announced on Friday that it has detained an American citizen allegedly seeking asylum in the reclusive country.
According to Reuters, North Korea’s state media outlet, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), published a report on Friday announcing that: “A relevant organ of the DPRK put in custody American Miller Matthew Todd, 24, on April 10 for his rash behavior in the course of going through formalities for entry into the DPRK to tour it.”
The report went on to say that Mr. Miller had arrived in North Korea on a tourist visa but upon entering the country tore up the visa and exclaimed that he had come “to the DPRK after choosing it as a shelter.” KCNA had said that North Korea had detained Mr. Miller because his alleged asylum request was a “a gross violation of its legal order.”
In the U.S. State Department’s daily press briefing on Friday, spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed that Foggy Bottom had seen the media reports and was looking into the matter but had no further details that it could share at this time.
North Korea already has one American, Kenneth Bae, imprisoned in the country. Bae, a Korean-American, was arrested by North Korean authorities during a tour group in 2012 and was later sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for allegedly trying to subvert the North Korean state.
Last fall North Korea arrested an 85-year-old American, Merrill Newman, as he was on a plane to leave the country following a 10-day vacation to the Hermit Kingdom. Newman was charged with numerous crimes dating back to his military service as part of the UN force during the Korean War in the 1950s. Newman was forced to make a videotaped “confession” for his alleged crimes while in prison, but was ultimately released six weeks after his initial arrest. North Korea said Newman’s sincere apology and “advanced age and health condition” had led to its decision to release Newman.
Without knowing anything about Mr. Miller, there’s good reason to be skeptical of North Korea’s account of the events leading to his arrest. To begin with, Mr. Miller’s arrest was also apparently kept secret for weeks and only announced by Pyongyang at the exact time that U.S. President Barack Obama happened to be visiting South Korea, an action that North Korea has declared as hostile.
Pyongyang also has a long history of arresting Americans in order to use them as bargaining chips in talks with the U.S. and its allies. This history seems particularly pertinent given that North Korea appears to be making the final preparations for its fourth nuclear test. Should it proceed with the test, North Korea will likely try to use Mr. Miller’s detainment as a bargaining chip in attempting to limit the diplomatic fallout the test will inevitably invite from the U.S. and its allies.