Aijalon Mahli Gomes (born 1979) is an American teacher from Boston, Massachusetts. On January 25, 2010, he was detained in North Korea for illegally entering the country. On August 27, 2010, it was announced that former U.S. president Jimmy Carter had secured Aijalon's release. In May 2015, Aijalon published an autobiography – Violence and Humanity.
Arrest in North Korea
For two years prior to his arrest, Gomes taught English at Chungui Middle School in Gyeonggi-do Province, South Korea for the GEPIK teaching program. As a devout Christian, who regularly attended the Every Nation Church in Seoul, it is thought that he crossed into North Korea to act as a missionary and offer humanitarian aid.
He was arrested on January 25, 2010 for illegal entry into North Korea, and on April 6, 2010, he was sentenced to eight years of hard labor and fined $700,000 (USD). He was allowed to speak to his mother by phone on April 30, 2010.
In June 2010, North Korea threatened "harsher punishment" if the United States continued its "hostile approach" in the follow-up to the sinking of the ROKS Cheonan, a South Korean warship. It was concluded by the United Nations Security Council that the ship had been sunk by a North Korean submarine. North Korea denied any involvement, and warned that if the dispute continued, they would be compelled to consider "applying a wartime law" to Gomes, which could mean a life sentence or even the death penalty. The following month, Gomes was reported to have been hospitalized following a suicide attempt.
Starting in April 2010, a sustained human rights letter-writing campaign sprang up to insist upon Gomes' release. In August, a U.S. consular envoy visited Pyongyang to request permission to bring Gomes home, but were unsuccessful. Shortly afterward, former president Jimmy Carter flew out to North Korea to personally negotiate Gomes' release. The Obama administration stressed that this was a private humanitarian effort, and that Carter was acting solely in his capacity as a private citizen, and not on the behalf of the United States government. Carter arrived in Pyongyang on August 25, and on August 26, Gomes was released. The Korean Central News Agency reported that "Jimmy Carter made an apology to Kim Yong Nam for American Gomes' illegal entry into North Korea and gave him the assurance that such case will never happen again".
Family members reported that Gomes was a little thin but was otherwise in good physical health.