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Aijalon Gomes, the American Christian who has been imprisoned in North Korea since January, has been released from custody due to the efforts of former President Jimmy Carter.

Gomes, 31, departed the North Korean capital city of Pyongyang on Friday looking gaunt, but relieved.

North Korean authorities arrested Gomes in January for illegally entering the country. He was sentenced to eight years at hard labor and fined $700,000.

On Tuesday, Carter flew to North Korea in an effort to negotiate Gomes’ release. The former U.S. president requested a special pardon for the 31-year-old, which the communist regime’s leader, Kim Jong Il, granted.

We “are relieved that he will soon be safely reunited with his family,” U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said. “We appreciate former President Carter’s humanitarian effort and welcome North Korea’s decision to grant Mr. Gomes special amnesty and allow him to return to the United States.”

Last year, former President Bill Clinton made a similar trip to the communist country. He managed to secure the freedom of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, two American journalists who had been arrested by the communist government and also sentenced to harsh labor camps.