North Korea arrests 24 year old American citizen trying to claim asylum in DPRK

News of arrest comes in middle of Obama trip to South Korea
April 25th, 2014

North Korea has arrested and detained an American citizen, the third tourist in the past six months, the Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) announced on Friday.

The 24 year old man in question, identified as Matthew Miller by Uri Tours, was arrested for attempting to claim asylum in North Korea, the KCNA said.

“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 KCNA said.

Miller ripped up his tourist travel certificate and declared “he would seek asylum,” adding that  “he came to the DPRK after choosing it as a shelter,” the KCNA said, which described his actions as a “gross violation” of legal order.

The North Korean government detained Miller “after taking a serious note of his behavior, and is now investigating the case.”

Leonid Petrov, a North Korea at the Australia National University in Canberra, told NK News that the arrest promised a “PR bonanza” for Pyongyang.

“Miller Matthew Todd’s action has hit the nerve of North Korean immigration officers because the DPRK considers entry visas its property and does not tolerate disrespectful attitude to it.

“Every foreign visitor who expresses intention to stay in the “workers’ and peasants’ paradise” longer than his or her visa permits, creates panic among the minders and leads to investigation and deportation. But an American citizen seeking asylum in the DPRK promises a PR bonanza for the regime, which desperately seeks Washington’s attention,” Petrov said.

It is normally rare for tourists to be arrested in North Korea, however, North Korea has arrested a number of foreigners in possession of visit papers in recent months.

Chad O’Carroll, Managing Editor of NK News, was stopped leaving North Korea in 2010 for having a damaged tourist visa.

“I was nearly prevented from leaving the country due to my passport photo having become completely detached from the visa form. The customs officials took it very seriously and I was nearly prevented from boarding the plane back to Beijing. Therefore, it does not surprise me that Todd was arrested under these circumstances.

“However, it is noteworthy that news of Todd’s arrest was broken today – 16 days after his alleged arrest – while U.S. President Barack Obama is in the middle of a trip to South Korea.”

North Korea released Australian missionary John Short and U.S. Korean War veteran Merrill Newman within just a few weeks of their arrest, in December and March respectively.

The U.S. State Department currently advises against all travel to North Korea.

An earlier version of this article included non-KCNA translations of the original Korean article.

Image: Victor Flickr Creative Commons 

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About the Author

Hamish Macdonald

Hamish Macdonald is an NK News contributor and has previously worked at The Korea Herald and for the Australia Centre for Independent Journalism in Sydney.