PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — 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.
North Korea recently released three Americans — two who had entered the country on tourist visas and Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American missionary who had been convicted of "anti-state" crimes.