An American facing five years of hard labour in North Korea for espionage is more into Alice in Wonderland and steampunk than nuclear missiles.
Matthew Miller had spent months in South Korea pretending to be an Englishman named “Preston Somerset”, say acquaintances who have met or worked with him. The 25-year-old native of Bakersfield, California, did not seem to have close friends, a regular job or any means of support during the months he spent in Seoul over a period of at least two years, they say. Nor did he give an inkling of any interest in nuclear-capable and unpredictable North Korea.
Instead, he spent time and money hiring artists to help create his own anime adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, the Lewis Carroll fantasy with which he seemed fascinated. At one point he joined a debating class that help Koreans converse in English, but rarely spoke. “He was just a mysterious character. He said nothing unless I asked questions,” says Hur Sung-doh, who organised the weekly group debate.
Which is perhaps why everyone was taken aback when the enigmatic Miller was arrested in North Korea on April 10 this year for tearing up his tourist visa after entering the isolated country with a tour group. Then, at a court hearing on Sept 14, the American was sentenced to six years hard labour.