Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Day 22° Partly Cloudy
News >  Nation/World

Texas man illegally in North Korea says he’s not in custody, seeks asylum

Arturo Pierre Martinez speaks during a press conference in Pyongyang. (Associated Press)
Arturo Pierre Martinez speaks during a press conference in Pyongyang. (Associated Press)
Associated Press

PYONGYANG, North Korea – North Korea on Sunday presented to the media an American man who says he illegally crossed into the country but has not been put into custody and is seeking asylum in Venezuela.

Arturo Pierre Martinez, 29, of El Paso, Texas, said he entered North Korea by crossing the river border with China. Details of how and when he got into the country were not immediately clear.

In his comments to reporters, Martinez strongly criticized the U.S. for alleged human rights violations.

Martinez’s mother, Patricia Eugenia Martinez, of El Paso, told CNN that her son was bipolar and earlier had tried to enter North Korea by swimming across a river, but was stopped and shipped back to the United States, where he was placed in a California psychiatric hospital.

“Then he got out,” she told the network. “He is very smart and he got the court to let him out, and instead of coming home to us he bought a ticket and left for China. He took out a payday loan online and left for China.”

She said the U.S. Embassy in Beijing was looking for him.

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said, “We are aware of reports that a U.S. citizen crossed into North Korea, and we stand ready to provide all consular assistance. The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is one of our top priorities.” She did not provide any additional information, citing “privacy considerations.”

The U.S. does not have formal diplomatic relations with North Korea, and Sweden handles U.S. consular affairs in Pyongyang

Martinez made his comments at the People’s Palace of Culture, which North Korean authorities have used in recent years for press conferences where they present North Korean defectors who have returned to North Korea, or on at least one occasion, a South Korean citizen who was detained in North Korea. It is also used for signing ceremonies between North Korea and other countries.

His comments came amid North Korea’s own loud protests of a resolution in the United Nations that could open the door for its leaders to face charges of crimes against humanity for human rights violations, raising questions of whether Martinez was trotted out to the media for propaganda purposes.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter

Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.