Detained in North Korea, Matthew Miller faces uncertain fate

Why is Matthew Miller in N. Korean prison?
Why is Matthew Miller in N. Korean prison?

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Why is Matthew Miller in N. Korean prison? 02:54

Story highlights

  • U.S. detainee in North Korea: I deliberately committed my crime
  • Matthew Miller, 24, tore up his tourist visa when he arrived to North Korea, says KCNA
  • His family has not commented and asked others not to speak to media
  • He faces trial on September 14
Looking pale and gaunt, Matthew Todd Miller glanced away from the camera during his brief interview in North Korea.
"I will say that I prepared to violate the law of the DPRK before coming here," he told CNN's Will Ripley earlier this month. "And I deliberately committed my crime."
But he didn't clarify what he meant by his "crime."
On Sunday, Miller faces "judgment date" in North Korea. He will not learn of his charges until that hearing.
According to North Korean state media, the 24-year-old American arrived as a tourist into the country on April 10. During entry, Miller tore his tourist visa and shouted that he would seek asylum and that "he came to the DPRK after choosing it as a shelter," according to KCNA.
The state-run media described Miller as having "rash behavior" and committing "gross violation of its legal order."
When asked whether he sought asylum in North Korea. Miller told CNN that he had already addressed that in a previous interview "so I'm not here to discuss more."
He is one of three Americans detained in North Korea; the other two are Kenneth Bae and Jeffrey Fowle.
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U.S. detainees in North Korea speak
U.S. detainees in North Korea speak

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Inside CNN's N. Korean prisoner interviews
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"My situation is very urgent," Miller told CNN. "That very soon, I'm going to trial and I will directly be sent to prison. I think this interview is my final chance to push the American government into helping me."
Was Miller seeking asylum?
Miller traveled to North Korea after arranging a private tour through the U.S.-based Uri Tours, that takes tourists into North Korea.
"We do not have any understanding of why he ripped his visa," according to Uri Tours. "While we do our best to vet each participant who joins a tour, it's not possible for us to know each person's motivations for traveling to the DPRK."
The tours are conducted despite U.S. State Department warnings that American citizens have been subject to arbitrary arrest and detention in North Korea.
Miller stated that he wants the U.S. government to secure his release. He said he wrote a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama, but had received no reply, adding that he was "disappointed in my government."
It's unclear whether his statements were made freely or under coercion.
Miller's case presents many questions, said Robert Kelly, an American who teaches International studies at Pusan National University in South Korea
"If he wanted asylum, why's he trying to get out?" Miller asked. "Now, he changes his mind? This is why the (U.S.) State Department encourages citizens not to go to North Korea."
Miller's roots
Little is known about Miller.
In Bakersfield, California, where his family lives, a pink note was affixed on their front door that stated: "Please do not disturb. We have no comment."
Close friends and neighbors contacted by CNN said they were instructed by the family not to speak to reporters. In a July interview, a neighbor told the Associated Press that Miller had first went to South Korea about four years ago to visit his brother and that he found a job teaching English.
Miller was a 2008 graduate of Bakersfield High School, according to KBAK, a CNN affiliate in Bakersfield. A few classmates who spoke with CNN said that that Miller seemed like an average kid. Two of them said they barely remembered him, because he was so quiet.
Americans held as bait?
The detention of the three Americans is a sign that North Korea seeks U.S. attention, said Kelly, who runs an Asian Security Blog. Obama's policy of strategic patience could be a source of irritation for North Korea.
"It's a temper tantrum," he said. "They don't really like being ignored. It's North Korea's ideology."
Americans previously detained in North Korea have been released after high-profile officials such as Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter visited the country.
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"The big visits make them important and make them look like a superpower cares. It's important for regime legitimacy at home," Kelly said.
Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico, has made several trips to North Korea, beginning with a trip in 1994 when he negotiated the release of the remains of a U.S. serviceman.
North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un's "negotiating tactics is now reverting to what his father used to do when he held detainees and American prisoners," Richardson said earlier this month. "They draw them out, they pressure them to admit that they were guilty, that they're being well treated, pleading to the American government to send an envoy to bring them back.
"They want something in return. The North Koreans want to dialogue with us."