American receives 15 years hard labour in North Korea
A 44-year-old American man, Kenneth Bae, has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labour in a North Korean labour camp after being arrested for unspecified crimes against the state and detained since November in Rason, a Special Economic Zone in the country’s north eastern region.
Bae was charged with “committing crimes aimed at toppling the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea with hostility towards it”. North Korea has refused to elaborate on the crimes further, only adding: “His crimes were proved by evidence.” The Korean state news agency (KCNA) issued nothing more than a short statement announcing that Mr Bae had been tried and sentenced for “hostile acts” against the country.
Bae reportedly ran a travel company called Nation Tours and it is believed that this was his reason for visiting North Korea with the tourists, as he had on previous occasions without any incident. It is alleged that Kenneth Bae was leading a group of five European tourists at the time of his arrest.
While much still remains unclear, it has been reported by his friends that Mr Bae was a devout Christian, while some allege that he was arrested for photographing starving children. Nothing has been confirmed.
There have been fears that amid tension with the US, Mr Bae could be used as a bargaining chip by Pyongyang. Senior fellow at the Sejong Institute, Cheong Seong-Chang, stated: “North Korea has shown their intention to use him as a negotiating card as they have done in the past.” There has been no reported comment from the US state department so far.
In the past there have been other incidents where US nationals have been imprisoned in North Korea. One such incident was the sentencing of American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee to 12 years hard labour in 2009, who were only released after former president Bill Clinton paid a visit to Pyongyang.
Most American prisoners since 2009 have been either deported or eventually released. Support is strong for Kenneth Bae, with many social networks supporting him and hoping for his release.