Enigma of American Matthew Miller jailed in North Korea

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Not much is known about 20-something Matthew Miller who was arrested in North Korea in April this year for tearing up his tourist visa after entering the isolated country with a tour group. Last week, Miller was sentenced to six years hard labor.

Matthew Miller, the U.S. citizen imprisoned in North Korea on espionage charges, spent months in South Korea posing as an Englishman named “Preston Somerset”, acquaintances who met or worked with him said. The 25-year-old native of Bakersfield, California, did not seem to have close friends, a regular job or means of support during the months he spent in Seoul over a period of at least two years, they said. He indicated no interest in North Korea.

Instead, he spent time and money hiring artists to help create his own anime adaption of Alice in Wonderland, the Lewis Carroll fantasy with which he seemed fascinated. At one point he joined a debating class that helped Koreans converse in English, but rarely spoke.

More and more, North Korea seems to be a magnet for adventurous foreigners drawn to the world’s most isolated nation. On Tuesday, South Korean marines arrested an American man who had been swimming in a river that flows towards North Korea and said he had been trying to go to the North to meet its leader, Kim Jong Un, Korean media reported.

North Korea is open to but suspicious of Western visitors and any out-of-the-ordinary behavior by tourists is quickly investigated. Photographs from Miller’s trial in Pyongyang showed a page from his notebook that said he had been “involved” in WikiLeaks and had attempted to access files from U.S. military bases in South Korea. The Japan-based Choson Sinbo newspaper, which is loyal to Pyongyang and attended Miller’s trial, said Miller had promised North Korean authorities he could reveal U.S. state secrets “as if he was Edward Snowden”.

Miller exhibited some unusual behavior while living in Seoul, but nothing linked to North Korea, his acquaintances said. Those who met him in South Korea only recalled a slightly odd, quiet young man who gave little away.

“It was very curt and very awkward, speaking to him,” said Mike Stewart, a Seoul-based artist’s studio director who met Miller last year, when he received an e-mail from “Preston Somerset”, which Miller later said was a pen name. “He seemed very birdy, like ready to bolt at any minute, like he didn’t know what to say and things like that.”

Francis Cole – an American who produces Japanese-style erotic art – said on a freelancing website that he was one of several artists, writers and musicians Miller commissioned to help produce his own Alice in Wonderland-inspired fantasy tale in the style of a Japanese anime. Miller, under his Preston Somerset alias, and Cole, with the username ‘Eirhjien’, were members of the deviantArt.com community where people can post and share user-made artwork.

It is still not clear what happened in the months between Miller’s quest to self-publish his own version of Alice in Wonderland, and his decision to go to North Korea.

[Read full Irrawaddy Magazine article]

This entry was posted in , by Grant Montgomery.

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