US Citizen Matthew Miller Sentenced to Six Years Hard Labour in North Korea

Hassan Sayed ’15

North Korea seems like such a distant land to us. We constantly ridicule its oppressive nature, from the great influx of Kim Jong-Un memes to Dennis Rodman’s repeated visits to the East Asian nation, which sits right above South Korea. We also don’t really have a lens into the area: the country has extremely strict regulations on what comes in and out of it, what people are and are not allowed to see. The only real way we even know what North Korea is like is through whatever information people can manage to sneak out of it. Most of this is done through some form of journalism, whether it’s in the form of a graphic novel form like Guy Delisle’s Pyongyang or simply undercover news reporting.

The latest tidbit of news to come out of North Korea is the detention of Matthew Miller, a US Citizen, who, upon arriving at Pyongyang airport, allegedly tore up his tourist visa and was accused of illegally entering the country. Notably, Miller was also accused of lying that he had information about the US Military on his iPad and iPhone. Because of these actions, he was prosecuted without appeal by the North Korean supreme court, and has subsequently been sentenced to six years of hard labour.

Miller is not the first Western citizen in recent years to have been sentenced to hard labour. In fact, in response to Miller’s detention, the US government has called the North Korean government to release two other citizens who were recently detained, Jeffrey Fowle and Kenneth Bae, as a “humanitarian gesture.” So, quite admittedly, the actions in regards to Miller have triggered the US to respond to other instances of its citizens being prosecuted in North Korea. And given that the North Korean government has allowed US press agencies some level of admittance to interview Miller and others, it is suspected that they might be open to negotiating the release of these detainees.

Matthew Miller sitting in dock, flanked by North Korean guards

A photograph released by the North Korean Central News Agency shows Miller looking extremely deprived, with a pale white tone to his skin, wearing all black, and flanked by two stern guards. The photo certainly gives us some insight into the types of emotions that the North Korean government might wish to instil into the viewers of the photo, particularly making the prisoner look weak in light of the guards surrounding him. It’s just a tidbit; and since we honestly don’t know much about Korea, it’s certainly useful to look at photographs and other media from the nation and see what we can gather from them.

Given the recent actions of the North Korean government, there is a good probability that Miller and the two others will be released.

And once the drama subsides, North Korea will return, in our eyes, to what it was before: just a foreign, secretive, and oppressive land that we still really don’t know anything about.

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