Family of U.S. man detained in North Korea appeals for his release

Retired finance executive Merrill Newman is seen in a photo taken in Palo Alto, California in 2005. North Korea has detained Newman, an 85-year-old Korean War veteran from California visiting the country as a tourist, pulling him off a plane as he was about to leave the reclusive nation last month, his son said. Credit: Reuters
Retired finance executive Merrill Newman is seen in a photo taken in Palo Alto, California in 2005. North Korea has detained Newman, an 85-year-old Korean War veteran from California visiting the country as a tourist, pulling him off a plane as he was about to leave the reclusive nation last month, his son said.
Credit: Reuters

The California family of a Korean War veteran held in North Korean custody since last month appealed to the Pyongyang government on Friday for his safe return, calling his detention during a sightseeing trip a “dreadful misunderstanding.”

Echoing comments from their son earlier in the day, Alicia Newman also said that relatives of her 85-year-old husband, Merrill Newman, have had no word on the state of his health, whether medications sent to him were received or why he was detained.

She said her husband was seated on a flight on the last day of his 10-day trip, October 26, waiting to take off, when North Korean authorities boarded and took him away.

“The family feels there has been some dreadful misunderstanding leading to his detention and asks that the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) work to settle this issue quickly and to return this 85-year-old grandfather to his anxious, concerned family,” said Alicia Newman, who goes by the first name Lee.

The statement was issued through the retirement home where the Newmans live in the upscale northern California town of Palo Alto.

Their son, Jeff Newman, told Reuters the family remained concerned about his father’s health, saying there had been no communication with him since he was taken.

The son’s comments came as a State Department official in Washington told reporters that North Korea had confirmed through diplomatic channels its detention of a U.S. citizen, but the official did not identify the person.

Experts on North Korea expressed surprise that an elderly American on a sightseeing trip – one of hundreds of U.S. citizens who visit that country every year – would be singled out for detention simply for having served in the Korean War.

HOSTAGE-TAKING FOR ATTENTION?

One suggested that North Korea was seeking to grab the international spotlight at a time when attention was focused on talks with Iran, perhaps as a way to manipulate the United States or China into providing food aid for the country as winter approached.

“It’s hostage-taking,” said Steven Weber, an international affairs specialist at the University of California at Berkeley.

The father’s detention came a day after he and his tour guide had been interviewed by North Korean authorities at a meeting in which Newman’s service as an infantry officer during the Korean War was discussed, the son told CNN on Wednesday.

The elder Newman was in North Korea on a tourist visa, family members said.

It was a trip “he had looked forward to making for a long while,” his wife said in her statement. “The postcards sent to his friends while on the trip described good times, good weather and knowledgeable guides.”

Lee Newman said previously her husband was removed from an Asiana Airlines flight, though an official for South Korea’s No. 2 carrier said it did not have “any route to Pyongyang in North Korea.”

Jeff Newman has said accounts of his father’s disappearance were based on details relayed to him through another American resident at his father’s retirement home who was traveling with him. That man, Bob Hamrdla, is back in California.

Appearing briefly outside his home in the Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena on Friday, the son told reporters the family has “been in regular contact with the State Department since the beginning of the detention but we don’t have any new information now.” He declined to elaborate.

Newman’s detention has dismayed people close to him and his family.

“He’s a wonderful person, a very gentle and mild-mannered person,” said Douglas Adams, a member of The Fellowship Forum, a men’s club to which Newman belonged. “I don’t have the faintest idea of why he was detained.”

Mary Britton, wife of club member Melvin Britton, said she saw Newman as “adventuresome” from what she knew of him.

“He was on his sailboat in San Diego for a period of time,” Britton said.

Britton’s children went to high school with Newman’s children, she said, adding Lee and her were members of a Palo Alto gardening club and attended exercise class together.

The U.S. government has not directly confirmed the detention of Merrill Newman, citing privacy laws, but State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Friday: “Our Swedish protecting power has been informed of the detention of a U.S. citizen” in North Korea.

“We are working in close coordination with representatives of the Embassy of Sweden to resolve this issue,” Psaki said, adding that daily requests by the Swedes for access to the detainee have yet to be granted.

The United States signaled through a special representative in Beijing on Thursday that the Pyongyang government could improve its strained relations with Washington by releasing any Americans held in North Korea.

Korean-American Christian missionary Kenneth Bae has been detained by the Pyongyang government since November 2012.

An estimated 1,200 to 1,500 Americans a year visit North Korea, said Andrea Lee, chief executive of Uri Tours, a New Jersey-based company that organizes tours to the country.

Daniel Sneider, an expert on the foreign policy of Korea and Japan at Stanford University, said he had never heard of North Korean authorities detaining a vacationing American.

“We don’t know why they did this or what provoked them to do it. All we know is that it’s unusual, even by North Korean standards,” Sneider said.

Sneider said tourist trips to North Korea are “very tightly controlled” affairs typically consisting of visits “to a certain set of monuments and museums and statues.”

North Korea has opened up travel to foreigners during the past few years to generate revenue by appealing to an exotic travel market of tourists seeking out-of-the-way destinations.

Sneider also said that even if Newman had spoken about serving in the Korean War, that would not necessarily explain why he was detained, given North Korea’s generally indifferent attitude toward American Korean War veterans.

“It’s not unprecedented for people who have served in the Korean War to have gone to North Korea” as tourists, Sneider said.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Preachers rail at NYPD at Eric Garner's funeral

Preacher after preacher stepped up to the pulpit at a sweltering Brooklyn church on Wednesday to express fury at the city's police force during the funeral of Eric Garner, who…

Local

Newark schools probed after claims of race discrimination

The U.S. Department of Education said on Wednesday it was investigating complaints that a plan to reorganize public schools in Newark, New Jersey, discriminates against black students.

National

Dogs are capable of feeling jealousy - U.S.…

By Curtis Skinner(Reuters) - Dogs are a man's best friend, and research released on Wednesday says canines want to keep it that way.Dogs are capable…

Local

G train riders brace for five-week shutdown

G train service will be suspended between Brooklyn and Queens between Friday, July 25, and Tuesday, Sept. 2.

Going Out

Where to go drinking on National Tequila Day…

Thursday is just close enough to the end of the week to make you envision yourself already sunning on a beach towel or lounging by…

Going Out

Things to do in NYC this week: July…

Performing arts A 70’s Summer Night Friday, 6:30 p.m. The Green Building 452 Union St., Gowanus $35, 347-529-6473 Party like it’s summer in the 1970s…

Going Out

5 must-try dishes at Edible Manhattan's Good Beer

Rooting out the exotic amid the New York City bar scene is noble quest. But if you’d like to have it all come to you,…

Books

Art imitates life (almost) in David Shapiro's new…

David Shapiro talks about his book, "You're Not Much Use To Anyone."

NFL

Jerry Reese confident with Giants, skipping countdown clocks…

Last year, Giants GM Jerry Reese installed a countdown clock in the locker room to inspire Big Blue to play in their own stadium for Super Bowl XLVIII.

MLB

Brandon McCarthy finds his calling on Twitter

Yankees starter Brandon McCarthy joined Twitter three year ago for the same reason many people do: to get news quickly.

Sports

NBA great LeBron James sends 800 cupcake apologies…

By Kim PalmerCLEVELAND (Reuters) - NBA star LeBron James, whose recent return to the Cleveland Cavaliers in his home state of Ohio sparked a frenzy…

NFL

Fantasy football: Johnny Manziel could give your running…

Fantasy football: Johnny Manziel could give your running game a boost

Food

Recharge with a post-workout smoothie from Nicky Hilton

Some people can roll out of bed right as their alarm goes off. And that alarm isn’t set for 20 minutes before they have to…

Education

Colleges are increasingly embracing the concept of gender-neutral…

  Northwestern University recently made headlines after announcing that it would be installing two gender-neutral bathrooms in the university's student center. “These are two gender-open…

Career

How to prepare to interview for your dream…

    Congratulations! You landed a job interview at your dream company! A lot of hard work has gone into determining which companies to apply…

Style

The shirtdress is a summer must-have

  We love throwing on our boyfriend’s shirt and a pair of jeans (no matter how much he grumbles that it’s his turn to wear the…