Jailed U.S. Christian Tries Suicide in N. Korea

( [email protected] ) Jul 12, 2010 07:47 AM EDT

The American citizen sentenced to eight years in a North Korean labor camp for illegally entering the country attempted to kill himself, North Korea reported on Friday.

Aijalon Mahli Gomes, a 30-year-old man from Boston, was taken to a hospital to be treated after his suicide attempt, reported the official Korean Central News Agency. The Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, which looks after U.S. interest in North Korea because the two countries have no diplomatic relationship, knows about Gomes’ condition, the agency said.

North Korea claims Gomes was motivated to kill himself out of “his strong guilty conscience” and “his frustration” with the U.S. government’s effort to set him free.

Gomes, whom friends describe as a devout Christian, was captured after crossing into reclusive North Korea from China on Jan. 25. He was sentenced in April to eight years of hard labor and fined 70 million North Korean won, or about $700,000, for “hostile acts” against the country.

Then in June, the North threatened to impose harsher punishment on Gomes to retaliate against the United States’ “campaign” to put international pressure on North Korea after the sinking of the South Korean warship in March.

Through its mouthpiece, the KCNA, Pyongyang warned the United States that if it continues to be hostile, then North Korea will be “compelled” to enact “wartime law” on Gomes.

Prior to entering North Korea, Gomes worked as an English teacher in a northern town in South Korea. He was involved in several protests in South Korea for the release of American citizen Robert Park, a Christian who had illegally entered North Korea in December to urge leader Kim Jong-il to repent. Park was released in February and has not spoken to the media since.

Also last year, American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee were imprisoned for five months after crossing the border without permission. They were released in August after former President Bill Clinton personally traveled to North Korea to escort them back to the United States.

After more than six months, it is still unclear what Gomes’ motivation is for entering North Korea.