Kenneth Bae: North Korea sentences American 15 years hard labor for 'carrying out serious crimes'

An American man detained in North Korea since last November has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, North Korean state news reported Thursday.

A story on the KCNA website indicated that Pae Jun Ho had been sentenced by North Korea's supreme court. The North has used that name to refer to the man U.S. authorities call Kenneth Bae, who is described by friends as a devout Christian and a tour operator.

A Korean-American, Bae entered North Korea on a valid tourist visa, a senior U.S. official told CNN on Monday. The official -- who spoke on background because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue -- said then that the State Department didn't know the exact charges against Bae.

The KCNA report indicated that the American was sentenced Tuesday for "carrying out serious crimes" against North Korea, without specifying what exactly he allegedly had done. He was arrested November 3 in Rason City.

The U.S. State Department had appealed Monday for Bae's release on humanitarian grounds. Three days earlier, a State Department spokesman told reporters that Swedish diplomats, who represent U.S. interests in North Korea because Washington has no diplomatic relations with the North, were able to visit Bae.

Some Americans have previously crossed the border without a visa, either knowingly or by mistake, but in this case, the U.S. official said, "This was somebody who was a tour operator who has been there in the past and has a visa to go to the North."

Bae's sentencing comes amid tense relations between North Korea and both the United States and its staunch ally South Korea. In recent weeks, the North has intensified threats against its neighbor and the United States.

 

Bae's trial on charges of "committing hostile acts" against North Korea place in Supreme Court on Tuesday, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported.

He 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, a Korean American who was living in Washington state, was based in the Chinese border city of Dalian and traveled frequently to North Korea to feed orphans.

Bae is at least the sixth American detained in North Korea since 2009. The others eventually were deported or released.

Three 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.

North Korea may be fishing for another visit by a high-profile American envoy, 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.

Associated Press contributed to this report.


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