We travel for many reasons. Maybe it’s to relax, learn something new or see friends and family. And then there are the so-called “adventure travelers” – sorry guys, you just don’t know the meaning of the expression. Keep your kayaks and your climbing gear in the garage, and trade them for a pencil so you can take some notes. Robert Park is redefining “adventure.”
Park, 28 years old, announced that he was leaving South Korea with other human rights activists (who asked Reuters not to reveal their names) to bring “God’s love” to the citizens on the northern side of the border. North Korea has the unfortunate habit of arresting foreigners who do not enter the country legally, which can be difficult to do because of visa constraints and limitations on how travelers from some countries are permitted to cross into the most reclusive nation in the world.
Park, who is an American citizen, and his crew were reported to have crossed from China into North Korea on Saturday. The entry point was Hoeryong, in the northeast part of the country. The border up there isn’t heavily patrolled.
Last spring, former U.S. President Bill Clinton was dispatched to North Korea to arrange the release of two reporters from Current TV: Laura Ling and Euna Lee. They were detained on charges of having crossed the China/North Korea border illegally. They claimed that they had crossed into North Korea by accident and were seized in China by North Korean border guards who chased after them.
Why has there been all this interest in North Korea? Obviously, it’s among the most difficult places for outsiders to enter, a problem which is compounded for human rights activists and the media. Also, there is a human rights record which has attracted considerable attention everywhere else in the world (except maybe Somalia). A U.S. State Department report published earlier this year lists the following abuses:
• The prohibition of freedom of speech and association
• The use of arbitrary killings to cause fear in the population
• An absence of due process
• “Severe torture and abuse,” which can include forced abortions and sexual abuse
• Political imprisonment (up to 200,000 inmates)
• Monitored correspondence
• Imprisonment of entire families based on the deeds of one member
The State Department also claims that North Korea maintains “control over all artistic and academic products,” though the notion that the government keeps an iron grip on the arts doesn’t fit completely with a North Korean art show I saw in New York a year ago or what is on display in Australia.