North Korea has sentenced a U.S. citizen to 15 years in one of the country’s notorious labor camps for allegedly attempting to overthrow the Pyongyang government.
Pyongyang’s official KCNA news agency announced the sentence imposed on Pae Jun-ho, known in the United States as Kenneth Bae. He has been held since November, when he was arrested at the northeastern port city of Rason, a special economic zone near North Korea’s border with China.
KCNA says Pae, 44, admitted to the charges against him at his April 30 trial.
He is not the first American over the years to be detained by North Korea.
Pyongyang arrested U.S. journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling, English teacher Aijalon Gomes, businessman Eddie Jun Young-su and Christian activist Robert Park. Former President Bill Clinton secured freedom for Lee and Ling, and former President Jimmy Carter negotiated the release of Gomes. Jun and Park were freed by North Korea on “humanitarian grounds.”
Pae is believed to be a tour operator of Korean descent. The Associated Press reports that friends describe him as a devout Christian.
As we’ve written in the past, these kinds of incidents highlight the difficult task diplomats face when a U.S. citizen is caught up in legal or political trouble in a so-called rogue state.
The New York Times, quoting analysts, says his detention presents the White House with a choice between “two equally distasteful options”:
“Washington … could send a former president to win the release of Kenneth Bae. … Then, North Korea, as it did before, could advertise such a high-profile visit as an American capitulation before its new young leader, Kim Jong-un, who is craving a chance to burnish his profile as a tough anti-American strategist.
“Or Washington, as its leaders have repeatedly vowed, could try to break Pyongyang’s habit of blackmailing its adversaries by ignoring its latest pressure tactic — and see one of its citizens languish in one of North Korea’s infamous prison camps, where the State Department says starvation and forced labor remain rampant.”