US citizen sentenced in North Korea to 15 years of compulsory labor for “hostile acts”

A U.S. citizen, Kenneth Bae, was sentenced 15 years of compulsory labor by the Supreme Court of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) on Tuesday, the official KCNA news agency said Thursday.

State media refers to Bae as Pae Jun Ho, the North Korean spelling of his Korean name. The defendant was arrested while “committing hostile acts against the DPRK” after entering Rason City as a tourist on Nov. 3 last year, it said.

During the preliminary inquiry into his crimes, Pae “admitted that he committed crimes aimed to topple the DPRK with hostility toward it.” His crimes were “proved by evidence,” the KCNA added.

Last January’s visit to North Korea by former U.S., New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and GoogleExecutive Chairman Eric Schmidt was reportedly linked to the release of Pae.

Pae Jun Ho (Kenneth Bae) has been detained for nearly six months in North Korea. Friends and colleagues say Bae, a Korean American who was living in Washington state and described by friends as a devout Christian and a tour operator, was based in the Chinese border city of Dalian and traveled frequently to North Korea to feed orphans.

Other Americans detained in recent years were also devout Christians. While North Korea’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion, in practice only sanctioned services are tolerated by the government.

The sentencing of Kenneth Bae comes amid signs of tentative diplomacy following weeks of rising tensions in the region. Analysts say Pyongyang could use Bae as a bargaining chip as it seeks dialogue with Washington.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department had no immediate comment.

It’s not the first time an American has been arrested and sentenced to labor during a nuclear standoff. In 2009, after Pyongyang’s launch of an earlier long-range rocket and its second underground nuclear test, two American journalists were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor after sneaking across the border from China.

They later were pardoned on humanitarian grounds and released to former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who flew to Pyongyang on a rescue mission. He also met with then-leader Kim Jong Il, which paved the way for talks.

American citizen faces trial in North Korea

CNN reports North Korea plans to begin a trial against a U.S. citizen detained there last year, state media said Saturday, complicating tense relations between the two nations.

Pae Jun Ho entered North Korea as a tourist on November 3, according to the Korean Central News Agency. After his detention, evidence revealed he had committed an unspecified crime against the country, the news agency said. The agency said he confessed to the alleged offense, but did not say what it was.

“He will soon be taken to the Supreme Court of the DPRK to face judgment,” the news agency said.

Last year, consular officials from the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang, which looks after U.S. interests in North Korea, visited Pae.

Who is Pae Jun Ho?