The United States will ban its citizens from entering North Korea beginning late August in response to growing concerns over the risk of long-term detention in the nuclear-armed country.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called the move a “Geographical Travel Restriction,” announcing through spokeswoman Heather Nauert on Friday:
“Due to mounting concerns over the serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea’s system of law enforcement, the secretary has authorized a Geographical Travel Restriction on all U.S. citizen nationals’ use of a passport to travel in, through or to North Korea.”
“The safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas is one of our highest priorities,” Nauert added.
The restriction will take effect a month after its publication as a legal notice in the Federal Register next week. By then, Americans who wish to visit North Korea must have a “special validation passport,” which may only be granted for “certain limited humanitarian or other purposes.”
With the ban in place, North Korea becomes the only country Americans are prohibited from visiting, Reuters noted. It is unclear how much will exactly be affected by the restriction, but U.S. Representative Joe Wilson, a Republican from South Carolina, estimates that there are hundreds of Americans among 4,000 to 5,000 Westerners who travel to North Korea annually.
As per USA Today, nearly all Americans who have visited North Korea have left without incident. Unfortunately, there are those who are captured and given brutal sentences for arguably minor offenses under the country’s legal system. The most resonant is the case of the late Otto Warmbier, who was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a propaganda poster.
Warmbier was able to serve over 17 months before North Korea released him with severe brain damage. Reportedly in a coma for more than a year, he died in his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio.