85-year-old Merrill Newman of Palo Alto, California was about to head home from an organized tour of North Korea when Korean officials boarded the waiting plane and removed him for questioning. Four weeks later, the family has still had no contact with the elderly man. Mr. Newman is a Korean War veteran, and his family believes his mention of his service to his handlers in North Korea may have prompted his arrest.
“This is a misunderstanding. My father is a Korean War veteran and wanted to see the country and culture he has been interested in for years. He arranged this with a travel agent that was recommended and said was approved by the North Korean government for travel of foreigners. He had all the proper visas.”
North Korea has not publicly acknowledged it detained Newman, but the family said that he is being held on espionage charges. It is believed that Mr. Newman told his tour guides that he fought against North Korea in the Korean War and that they likely reported it to the North Korean authorities. The family notes that his efforts against North Korea were already known and that they had specifically discussed his service with one or two Korean authorities months before the trip was scheduled.
Newman is the second American being held in North Korean. Kenneth Bae, an American citizen, was arrested in November 2012 and sentenced in May to 15 years of hard labor. The North Korean government has said he was found guilty of “hostile acts” and attempts to topple the government.
The United States has warned citizens that it is no longer safe to travel to North Korea.