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2 May, 2013 03:58

North Korea sentences American to 15 years hard labor

North Korea sentences American to 15 years hard labor

North Korea’s Supreme Court has sentenced Kenneth Bae, an American citizen, to 15 years' hard labor on charges that he committed crimes against the state.

Bae, who was referred to throughout the trial as Pae-Jun-ho, the Korean iteration of his name, was first detained in November and could have been executed for the charge that he conspired to overthrow the government. 

It’s been previously reported Bae, who is said to be a devout Christian, entered North Korea legally and often worked to feed starving children in the isolated country. He attended the University of Oregon and previously worked as a tour operator in the US.  

The news was first reported by state media before being confirmed by Reuters and other Western outlets.

The exact nature of his supposed crimes is not known, but Bae was arrested in Rason, a special economic zone in North Korea bordering Russia and China, according to the Associated Press. 

The verdict comes after North Korea has spent weeks threatening to reignite its nuclear reactors and begin development of an atomic weapon. Korean Central News Agency, the state media outlet, reported last week that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had gathered incriminating evidence against Bae. 

In the process of the investigation he admitted that he committed crimes aimed to topple to DPRK with hostility toward it,” it reported. “His crimes were proved by evidence.”

Bae’s detention is widely seen as posturing from North Korea's young leader Kim Jong-un. 

For North Korea, Bae is a bargaining chip in dealing with the US,” Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korean Studies in Seoul, South Korea, told the AP. “The North will use him in a way that helps bring the US toward talks when the mood slowly turns to dialogue.”

In the meantime, the US has called for North Korea to grant an amnesty for the immediate release of Bae, AP reports.

The 44-year-old is at least the sixth American detained in North Korea since 2009.

Two American journalists were arrested in North Korea in 2009 and sentenced to hard labor for trespassing and hostile acts. After they were held for four months, former US president Bill Clinton traveled to Pyongyang to negotiate their release with former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. 

Including Laura Ling and Euna Lee, the two journalists, Bae is the sixth American to be apprehended in North Korea since 2009; the others were released or deported.