The elderly Palo Alto, Calif., man who has been detained in North Korea for more than a month “committed hostile acts” against that nation while visiting as a tourist, a state-run news agency reported Friday, also issuing what purportedly is the detainee's apology.
Perhaps most significantly, North Korea posted a video of Merrill E. Newman, 85, reading the apparently handwritten apology aloud — the first sight of Newman that anyone outside North Korea has had since he was taken into custody there Oct. 26.
After entering North Korea in October, Newman “perpetrated acts of infringing upon the dignity and sovereignty of the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) and slandering its socialist system, quite contrary to the purpose of tour,” according to the Korean Central News Agency's dispatch.
“He is a criminal as he masterminded espionage and subversive activities against the DPRK and in this course he was involved in killings of service personnel of the Korean People's Army and innocent civilians,” the report says. “The investigation clearly proved Newman's hostile acts against the DPRK and they were backed by evidence. He admitted all his crimes and made an apology for them.”
The report makes no indication of whether or when Newman, a retired corporate finance executive and grandfather with a heart condition, might be released. North Korean authorities removed him from a plane minutes before he and his traveling companion — a Palo Alto neighbor — were scheduled to leave the country.
Newman's son, Jeffrey Newman of Pasadena, didn't return a call seeking comment Friday night. A State Department spokeswoman said she didn't expect the department would comment before early Saturday.
“I can't think of any previous case that's similar to this, but my gut instinct is that they're going to release him, that this is a forced apology in order to clear the way to making the gesture of releasing him,” said Dan Sneider, a North Korea expert at Stanford's Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center.
The news report was accompanied by what the agency described as an apology, dated Nov. 9 purportedly from Newman himself. And the news agency posted a video of Newman reading the apology aloud, and then signing it and affixing his thumbprint.
It's unclear whether Newman in fact wrote the apology, and if he did, whether it was coerced.
The apology, available only in roughly translated English, said that he committed crimes against North Korea while serving with United Nations forces during the Korean War, including training South Koreans in military and guerrilla tactics. This apology also said Newman ordered 200 soldiers under his command to attack communications, supply and munitions lines. “As I killed so many civilians and KPA soldiers and destroyed strategic objects in the DPRK during the Korean War, I committed indelible offensive acts against the DPRK government and Korean people.”
Upon returning to North Korea in October, 60 years after his military service, Newman “had a plan to meet any surviving soldiers and pray for the souls of the dead soldiers. ... Following the itinerary I asked my guide to help me look for the surviving soldiers and their families and descendants because it was too hard for me to do myself.”
The apology says Newman plotted to connect any surviving partisans with whom he had served 60 years ago with the South Korea-based “Kuwol Partisan Comrades-in-Arms Association,” described as “anti Communist strategic plot organization.”
“All the members of the Kuwol Partisan Comrades-in-Arms Association escaped from the DPRK to South Korea,” the apology says. “So I asked the guide to help me to look for their families and relatives living in DPRK and I gave the document written with their address and e-mail address to the guide in the Yanggakdo Hotel.”
The apology also says Newman “also brought the e-book criticizing the Socialist DPRK on this trip and criticizing DPRK.”
“Although I committed the indelible offensive acts against the Korean people in the period of the Korean War, I have been guilty of big crimes against the DPRK government and Korean People again,” the apology says.
“I realize that I cannot be forgiven for my offensives but I beg for pardon on my knees by apologizing for my offensives sincerely toward the DPRK government and the Korean people and I want not punish me. Please forgive me. ... If I go back to USA, I will tell the true features of the DPRK and the life the Korean people are leading.”
Josh Richman covers politics. Follow him at Twitter.com/josh_richman. Read the Political Blotter at IBAbuzz.com/politics.