The US Congress is putting together legislation to ban American citizens from traveling to North Korea, following the death of an American national who was imprisoned in the country over espionage charges.
Sponsored by Republican Representative Joe Wilson and his Democratic colleague Adam Schiff, the bipartisan bill is aimed at prohibiting tourism travels to the North, US media reported Wednesday.
If passed, the bill would require any US citizen heading to North Korea to obtain a license from the Treasury Department.
“We should have a travel ban and we’re working on legislation right now,” said Republican Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Corker is one of the known forces behind the initiative. He first raised the possibility of a ban last week, after the death of Otto Warmbier, an Ohio college student.
Warmbier spent 17 months in a North Korean jail over spying charges and was released to his family back in the US after falling into a coma due to a “severe neurological injury.” He died on June 19.
A mourner signs a guest book at Wyoming High School in Wyoming, Ohio, during the funeral for Otto Warmbier, June 22, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
The 22-year-old was sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labor for reportedly stealing a banner.
“People watch these websites that guarantee they can go into North Korea and be secure, be safe, these glossy presentations — and the reality is that many of these visitors end up being used as bargaining chips by the North Korean regime,” said House foreign affairs chairman Ed Royce.
Willson, who visited Pyongyang as part of a congressional delegation back in 2003, said traveling to the North was “dangerous” and people had to know that they were dealing with what he called a “maniacal society.”
According to CNN, traveling for family re-unification or humanitarian work is excluded from the proposed ban.
The legislation has its own opponents among lawmakers, who argue that such bans only limit traveling rights for American citizens.
“Right now, we’re sort of discussing what the alternatives might be, if there is a travel ban, would it be in total, would it be a travel ban just with tourism?” said Representative Eliot Engel.
North Korea has detained at least 17 American citizens over the past decade and three of them remain imprisoned there, according to Willson.