An American has been convicted by North Korea of trying to topple the government and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. Kenneth Bae, 44, a resident of Washington state, was in North Korea on a tourist visa last year when he was arrested by North Korean authorities November 3 in the city of Rason near the border of Russia and China. CBN News reported that Bae, who is a committed Christian, was convicted by North Korea's supreme court of attempting to topple the government and of other unspecified “hostile acts” against the communist nation.
South Korean sources familiar with the case said Bae may have been arrested for photographing starving children. Bae was born in South Korea but is a naturalized U.S. citizen who attended the University of Oregon. His most recent residence was the Seattle suburb of Lynnwood.
Reuters News quoted a North Korean defector as speculating that Bae will most likely serve his sentence in a special facility for foreign prisoners, rather than one of the nation's notorious forced-labor camps for North Korean citizens. Some human rights groups estimate that more than 200,000 people are kept in such camps, where they are beaten and starved, and where many perish.
“If an American served jail together with North Korean inmates, which won't happen, he could tell them about capitalism or economic developments,” explained Kwon Hyo-jin, a North Korean who spent seven years in one of the labor camps until his release in 2007 and escape to South Korea two years later. “That would be the biggest mistake for North Korea.” Instead, said Kwon, Bae would most likely “be sent to a correctional facility that only houses foreigners and was set up as a model for international human rights groups.”
Reuters reported that Bae “was part of a group of five tourists who visited the northeastern North Korean city of Rajon in November and has been held since then. Some media reports have identified Bae as the leader of the tour group and NK News, a specialist North Korea news website, said he was the owner of a company called Nation Tours that specialized in tours of north-east North Korea.”
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Photo of South Korean man watching news program about Kenneth Bae: AP Images