After being detained in North Korea in the fall, Merrill Newman has been granted a Christmas miracle. The 85-year-old man was deported earlier today. Prior to his release, there was fear he would be held in North Korea for the rest of his life.
The DPRK detained the elderly tourist for a period of several weeks beginning on October 26th when it was learned that he was in fact a Korean war veteran. His status caused him to be viewed as a war criminal. It was after Newman apologized for his wrongdoing during the war that officials say they decided they would send the man out of their country.
Some speculate that the act was motivated by a visit to North Korea by American Vice-President Joe Biden. Letting the elderly tourist go could be taken by some as an expression of good faith or wanting to be shown in a good light. The Vice-President, despite offering praise for the move to release Newman, stated that he himself had no direct impact on the decision to let the man go.
Indeed, there is still work to be done regarding detainees from abroad still held within North Korea’s borders. Even as Merrill Newman prepares to spend Christmas with his family, others are petitioning the DPRK to free Kenneth Bae. Bae was arrested and imprisoned for working to spread Christianity in North Korea. The religion is forbidden in the country due to it being seen as Western propaganda. The crime of Christianity brings with it the possibility of spending the rest of one’s life in one of North Korea’s infamous prison camps. Prior to his arrest, Kenneth Bae was working as a tour guide with several other secret missionaries. Their jobs were a front that granted them access to the country and the ability to run an undercover religious ministry. Kenneth Bae may be an American citizen like Merrill Newman, but given his beliefs and the risks he willingly took, its very unlikely he’ll wish to apologize. And even if he does, his circumstances currently seem to be a bit graver.
Right now, Newman is appreciating that he is very lucky to be leaving North Korea and his experiences behind him. When stopped for a quote after his deportation, Newman responded, “I’m very glad to be on my way home. I feel good, I feel good. I want to go home to see my wife.”
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