North Korea sentences American to 15 years hard labor

An undated still image of a video footage released in Seoul by Yonhap News Agency on May 2, 2013, shows a portrait of U.S. citizen Kenneth Bae. REUTERS/Yonhap
An undated still image of a video footage released in Seoul by Yonhap News Agency on May 2, 2013, shows a portrait of U.S. citizen Kenneth Bae. REUTERS/Yonhap

North Korea sentenced U.S. citizen Kenneth Bae to 15 years hard labor today for what it said were crimes against the state, a move that will likely see him used as a bargaining chip in talks with Washington.

Bae, 44, was born in South Korea but is a naturalized American citizen and attended the University of Oregon. According to U.S. media, he most recently lived in the Seattle suburb of Lynnwood.

A North Korean defector said Bae will likely serve his sentence in a special facility for foreigners, not in one of the repressive state’s forced labor camps. More than 200,000 people are incarcerated in these camps, beaten and starved, sometimes to death, according to human rights bodies.

Bae’s sentencing comes after two months of saber-rattling by Pyongyang that saw North Korea threaten both the United States and South Korea with nuclear war.

Bae is believed to be a devout Christian, according to human rights activists in South Korea, who say he may have been arrested for taking pictures of starving children, known as “kotjebi” or fluttering swallows.

He was part of a group of five tourists who visited the northeastern North Korean city of Rajin in November and has been held since then.

Some media reports have identified Bae as the leader of the tour group and NK News, a specialist North Korea news website, said he was the owner of a company called Nation Tours that specialized in tours of north-east North Korea.

The reports could not be verified and North Korean state news agency KCNA did not list any specific charge other than crimes against the state, and used a Korean rendering of Bae’s name, Pae Jun-ho, when it reported the Supreme Court ruling.

“North Korea has shown their intention to use him as a negotiating card as they have done in the past,” said Cheong Seong-chang, senior fellow at the Sejong Institute, a Seoul-based think-tank.

Bae’s sentence was heftier than the 12 years handed down to two U.S. journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, in 2009. It took a visit to Pyongyang by former President Bill Clinton to secure their release.

North Korea appears to use the release of high profile American prisoners to extract a form of personal tribute, rather than for economic or diplomatic gain, often portraying visiting dignitaries as paying homage.

According to North Korean law, the punishment for hostile acts against the state is between five and 10 years hard labor.

“I think his sentencing was hefty. North Korea seemed to consider his acts more severe,” said Jang Myung-bong, honorary professor at Kookmin University in Seoul and a North Korea law expert.

North Korea is one of the most isolated states on earth. Its official policy of “Juche” or self-reliance is a fusion of Marxism, extreme nationalism and self sufficiency centered on the cult of the ruling Kim family.

SEPARATE JAIL

Bae will not however be incarcerated in one of the North’s notorious slave labor camps, such as the one where defector Kwon Hyo-jin was locked up. There, Kwon said, prisoners were worked to death and often survived only by eating rats and snakes.

“If an American served jail together with North Korean inmates, which won’t happen, he could tell them about capitalism or economic developments. That would be the biggest mistake for North Korea,” said Kwon, a North Korean sentenced to one of its camps for seven years until 2007. He defected to South Korea in 2009.

“(Bae) would be sent to a correctional facility that only houses foreigners and was set up as a model for international human rights groups,”

It was not known if Bae had been taken immediately to jail.

Ling, the journalist, told U.S. television that she was placed in a 5-by-6 foot cell when captured and then kept in a regular room afterwards.

Bae was given counsel by the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, which has consistently declined to comment on the case, as the United States does not have diplomatic relations with the North.

(Additional reporting by Christine Kim; Editing by David Chance and Raju Gopalakrishnan)


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Train selfie star who got kicked in the…

  A 22-year-old Canadian man who posted a video of himself getting kicked in the head by a train conductor is set to cash in…

National

Call of Duty hoaxer blamed for $100K SWAT…

A heavilly-armed SWAT team and an army of police officers stormed a Long Island home fearing a grisly double homicide – only to find it…

National

Minnie Driver tweets naked celebrity snap to 'shut…

Actress Minnie Driver has responded to bitchy critics who sniped about her bikini body by Tweeting a naked picture of herself. The 44-year-old star of…

National

American middle classes no longer world's richest (guess…

America's middle classes are no longer the richest in the world – having been overtaken in the wealth stakes by their Canadian counterparts. For almost…

Television

John Turturro tags in for Robert De Niro…

The cast of the courtroom drama miniseries has undergone yet another shift. Following Robert De Niro's exit, the cable network has brought in John Turturro…

Television

TV watch list, Tuesday, April 22: 'Glee,' 'Agents…

'Glee' Rachel makes her Broadway debut in "Funny Girl." Remember when she was just a high school drama nerd? FOX, 8PM 'Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'…

The Word

Lindsay Lohan's big, drunk interview

Lindsay Lohan appears to be completely off the wagon now, if Kode magazine's chronicle of her trip to Coachella is any indication. According to the…

The Word

What we learned from the premiere of 'True…

Does watching someone's marriage implode make for great TV? The show runners at "True Tori" think Tori Spelling's heartbreak is hot stuff indeed.

NHL

Lundqvist, Rangers take control as Flyers falter in…

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist turned away 31 Flyers shots to give the Blueshirts the series edge with a 4-1 victory Tuesday nigh

MLB

MLB Power Rankings: Brewers best in baseball, Dodgers,…

MLB Power Rankings: Brewers best in baseball, Dodgers, Cardinals, Yankees surge. The A's, Braves, Rangers, Giants and Rockies are also in the top 10.

NBA

Breaking down the Sixers top draft options

With the NBA Playoffs now in full force, there’s only one thing on the mind of Sixers fans at the moment -- the 2014 NBA Draft Lottery.

MLB

Metro one-on-one: Q&A with Phillies centerfielder Ben Revere

Charlie Manuel used to say that the Phillies go as Jimmy Rollins goes. Well, Ryne Sandberg might have a new Phillies catalyst, Ben Revere, in his midst.

Wellbeing

How to burn off all that Easter candy

Sorry to be a buzzkill, but you can't eat chocolate eggs and Jelly Bellys forever.

Food

Powdered alcohol: 5 things to know about 'Palcohol'

What's the deal with powdered alcohol? Here's what you need to know about Palcohol.

Travel

Travel hacks: 6 tips on living out of…

Lynne Martin shares her travel hacks on living out of just two suitcases.

Wellbeing

Tough Mudder pro gives tips on conquering a…

Learn hacks from head designer Nolan Kombol.