You choose, we deliver
If you are interested in this story, you might be interested in others from The Journal Gazette. Go to www.journalgazette.net/newsletter and pick the subjects you care most about. We'll deliver your customized daily news report at 3 a.m. Fort Wayne time, right to your email.

World

  • Top doctor dies from Ebola after treating dozens
    A leading virologist who risked his own life to treat dozens of Ebola patients died Tuesday from the disease, officials said, as a major regional airline announced it was suspending flights to the cities hardest hit by an outbreak that
  • Shelling adds to mounting civilian toll in Ukraine
    Shelling in at least three cities in eastern Ukraine has hit a home for the elderly, a school and multiple homes, adding to a rapidly growing civilian death toll Tuesday.
  • Israel hits symbols of Hamas rule; scores killed
    Israel escalated its military campaign against Hamas on Tuesday, striking symbols of the militant group’s control in Gaza and firing tank shells that Palestinian officials said shut down the strip’s only power plant in the
Advertisement

North Korea sentences American to 15 years' labor

SEOUL, South Korea – A Korean American detained for six months in North Korea has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for “hostile acts” against the state, the North’s media said Thursday – a move that could trigger a visit by a high-profile American if history is any guide.

Kenneth Bae, a Washington state man described by friends as a devout Christian and a tour operator, is at least the sixth American detained in North Korea since 2009. The others eventually were deported or released without serving out their terms, some after trips to Pyongyang by prominent Americans, including former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

With already abysmal U.S.-North Korean ties worsening since a long-range rocket-launch more than a year ago, Pyongyang is fishing for another such meeting, said Ahn Chan-il, head of the World Institute for North Korea Studies think tank in South Korea.

“North Korea is using Bae as bait to make such a visit happen. An American bigwig visiting Pyongyang would also burnish Kim Jong Un’s leadership profile,” Ahn said. Kim took power after his father, Kim Jong Il, died in December 2011.

The authoritarian country has faced increasing criticism over its nuclear weapons ambitions. Disarmament talks including the Koreas, the United States, Japan, China and Russia fell apart in 2009. Several rounds of U.N. sanctions have not encouraged the North to give up its small cache of nuclear devices, which Pyongyang says it must not only keep but expand to protect itself from a hostile Washington.

Pyongyang’s tone has softened somewhat recently, following weeks of violent rhetoric, including threats of nuclear war and missile strikes. There have been tentative signs of interest in diplomacy, and a major source of North Korean outrage – annual U.S.-South Korean military drills – ended Tuesday.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department said it was working with the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang to confirm the report of Bae’s sentencing. The United States lacks formal diplomatic ties with North Korea and relies on Sweden for diplomatic matters involving U.S. citizens there.

Bae’s trial on charges of “committing hostile acts” against North Korea took place in the Supreme Court on Tuesday, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported. KCNA referred to Bae as Pae Jun Ho, the North Korean spelling for his Korean name.

Bae was arrested in early November in Rason, a special economic zone in North Korea’s far northeastern region bordering China and Russia, state media said. The exact nature of Bae’s alleged crimes has not been revealed.

Friends and colleagues say Bae was based in the Chinese border city of Dalian and traveled frequently to North Korea to feed orphans. Bae’s mother in the United States did not answer calls seeking comment Thursday.

There are parallels to a case in 2009. After Pyongyang’s launch of a long-range rocket and its second underground nuclear test that year, two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, 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 Clinton, who met with then-leader Kim Jong Il. U.S.-North Korea talks came later that year.

In 2011, Carter visited North Korea to win the release of imprisoned American Aijalon Gomes, who had been sentenced to eight years of hard labor for crossing illegally into the North from China.

Korean American Eddie Jun was released in 2011 after Robert King, the U.S. envoy on North Korean human rights, travelled to Pyongyang. Jun had been detained for half a year over an unspecified crime.

Jun and Gomes are also devout Christians. While North Korea’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion, in practice only sanctioned services are tolerated by the government.

U.N. and U.S. officials accuse North Korea of treating opponents brutally. Foreign nationals have told varying stories about their detentions in North Korea.

The two journalists sentenced to hard labor in 2009 stayed in a guest house instead of a labor camp due to medical concerns.

Ali Lameda, a member of Venezuela’s Communist Party and a poet invited to the North in 1966 to work as a Spanish translator, said that he was detained in a damp, filthy cell without trial the following year after facing espionage allegations that he denied. He later spent six years in prison after a one-day trial, he said.

Advertisement