An American citizen that was part of a group of five tourists visiting North Korea has been sentenced to 15 years hard labour for “crimes against the state,” Reuters reports.
Born in South Korea, Kenneth Bae, 44, is a naturalized American citizen who attended the University of Oregon. He is the owner of Nations Tours, which brings groups to the northeastern region of North Korea, according to NK News.
Bae, a tour operator from the US state of Washington, was accused of attempting to overthrow the government, a crime that carries a possible death penalty. In its latest dispatch KCNA did not state the exact nature of his alleged crimes. South Korean human rights campaigners have speculated that authorities were angered by photographs Bae had reportedly taken of starving children and the public executions of dissenters.
Described by his friends as a devout Christian, Bae was based out of northeastern China and traveled often to the Hermit Kingdom, according to Daily Mail.
“North Korea has shown their intention to use him as a negotiating card as they have done in the past,” Cheong Seong-chang, senior fellow at the Sejong Institute, told Reuters.
Due to his citizenship, Bae will likely be held in a segregated facility away from other North Koreans. “If an American served jail together with North Korean inmates, which won’t happen, he could tell them about capitalism or economic developments,” Kwon Hyo-jin, a North Korean defector who served time in a prison camp, told Reuters. “That would be the biggest mistake for North Korea.”
The U.S. does not have diplomatic ties with North Korea, but is working with the Swedish government to confirm his imprisonment — and likely, to arrange for his release.
Others have been imprisoned in the past, including American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee — receiving a sentence of 12 years hard labour in 2009. They were pardoned after President Bill Clinton traveled to Pyongyang and negotiated their release.
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