On October 26, a Stanford Alumnus, Merrill Newman M.A ‘55, was escorted off of a plane bound for Beijing from Pyongyang after a ten day trip around North Korea. Newman, a Korean War Veteran, allegedly requested to meet with surviving soldiers during his trip. North Korean officials seem to have construed this request as an “anti-communist strategic plot organization” according to the New York Times. The New York Times also reported that North Korea alleged that “Mr. Newman was ‘slandering’ North Korea and had ‘perpetrated acts of infringing upon the dignity and sovereignty’ of the country’”.
The Stanford graduate recently made a public apology, saying “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.” “Please forgive me,” he says, his hands shaking as he reads from a white paper in a video played on North Korean television. Mr. Newman additionally apologized for bringing an “e-book criticizing the socialist DPRK on this trip.”
American military records have confirmed that Mr. Newman served as an adviser on an island, named Chodo, west of the Korean Peninsula. He served in 1953, before the armistice, training guerrillas for warfare. The United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) are technically still at war following the 1953 armistice.
Merrill Newman’s tour group included his son, Jeff Newman, who has been the spokesperson for the family since his father’s arrest, and Stanford Professor Bob Hamrdla ‘59, M.A. ‘64, M.A ‘69, a “specialist on Central and Eastern Europe” according to Stanford’s online profile of him.
The United States strongly advises citizens not to travel to North Korea, opening its official warning by stating “The Department of State recommends against all travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea.” The warning cites the “risk of arbitrary arrest and detention of U.S. citizens in North Korea.”
The United States is currently working through the intermediary of the Swedish diplomatic corps in North Korea towards his release. The USA does not have a diplomatic relationship with the DPRK, and as such has no direct channels through which to mediate.
Mr. Newman, who is 85 and lived in a retirement home in Palo Alto, had a heart condition and his family was concerned that the absence of regular medicine would jeopardize his health. However, the Ambassador of Sweden, who visited him November 31st, recently stated, “As a result of the visit, we know that Merrill is in good health. He has received the medications that we sent him and medical personnel are checking on his health several times a day.”
The Stanford Community expressed grief at Mr. Newman’s ill-fortune on its Facebook Alumni page, with one member posting, “Pray for Merrill Newman and his family. A moment of silence at tomorrow’s football game?”
Khaled AlShawi ‘13 M.A ‘14, a Stanford alum who visited North Korea in 2010, confirmed that the hotel Mr. Newman is being held in is “separated from the rest of Pyongyang by a – I assume – heavily monitored bridge”. Mr. AlShawi had no issues with the police while in North Korea.