North Korea, a regime notorious for its brutal ways and its crimes against humanity, has one of the worst prison camp systems in the world.
Their methods of punishment, as described by a U.N. inquiry, include “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence.” Detainees are forced to eat grass and soil, and some are even confined in small boxes where most die due to lack of blood circulation.
To cut a long story short, prisons in Kim Jong-un’s kingdom are a horrible, horrible place to be. However, there are some people who want to be there – including South Korean college student Won Moon-joo, who was arrested after crossing the Yalu River into the North from the Chinese border city of Dandong on April 22.
Won, who is a U.S. citizen, later revealed that he intentionally entered the country in a bid for peace.
“I wanted to be arrested. I thought some great event could happen and hopefully that event could have good a effect in the relationship between the North and the South,” he told the CNN.
On Monday, North Korea finally handed over the New York University student to South Korean officials at the border on “humanitarian measures.”
Although it is unclear what he thought would exactly happen once he was arrested and how that would bring peace to the conflicted region, he is hardly the first American to pull off such a bizarre – and seemingly stupid – stunt.
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As BBC reports, most Americans who are arrested in North Korea are missionaries who weigh the risks of spreading Christian beliefs in an aggressively atheistic state. However, in some instances, U.S. citizens themselves seek imprisonment.
In 2014, an American named Matthew Miller traveled to North Korea as a tourist. He reportedly damaged his visa on the flight and attempted to claim asylum – all because he wanted to find out what North Korea was like beyond the tourist trail. In fact, he opted for jail even when the North Koreans tried to put him straight on a plane and send him home.
"My main fear was that they would not arrest me when I arrived," Matthew Miller explained in an interview, adding that along damaging his visa, he also produced a set of confusing notes. “I wrote the notebook in China just before going to North Korea.”
The notes apparently said that he was a “hacker” intent on "removing the American military from South Korea.”
He never explained how he hoped to meet North Koreans or explore the country after getting arrested. Because as far as “unconventional tourism” goes, you can’t very well explore any cultural aspect – except their detainment facility, maybe – when you are behind the bars.
In 2009, another U.S. citizen, Robert Park, crossed the frozen Tumen River between China and North Korea, shouting “South Korea and America love you” and smashing a photograph of North Korea’s then-leader Kim Jong-il. He knew what he was doing and the consequences he would have to pay, but he apparently thought his arrest would make a real difference.
“I don’t want President Obama to come and pay to get me out,” he told Reuters days before his protest.
He was released 43 days later; however, he claimed he was subjected to torture and sexual abuse from which he still bears psychological scars.
Perhaps these curious tourists didn’t think that far, because there must be far better plans to build peace and to explore North Korea that don't involve incarceration.