North Korea Thursday said its Supreme Court had sentenced an American citizen to 15 years of hard labour for committing hostile acts against its government.
The citizen,Kenneth Bae,44,a Korean-American from Washington state who ran a tour business out of China,was arrested in the special economic zone of Rason in northeastern North Korea in November after leading a group of businessmen there from Yanji,China. On Saturday,the North said it was indicting him on charges that he tried to overthrow Pyongyangs government.
On Thursday,the Norths official Korean Central News Agency said the Supreme Court had sentenced Bae during a hearing Tuesday. The court convicted him of hostile acts,a charge less grave than the original charge that prosecutors pressed. The crime of trying to overthrow the government could have resulted in the death penalty.
Under North Korean law,Bae should be transferred to a labour camp within 10 days of the ruling.
The ruling came amid high tensions between Pyongyang and Washington and could complicate Washingtons diplomatic balancing act as it tries to hold a tough line with North Korea over its nuclear programme.
South Korean human rights advocates have said Bae not only ran tours to North Korea but was also interested in helping orphans there. They said security officials in the North may have been offended by pictures of orphans that Bae had taken and stored in his computer.
North Korea has often used the plight of detained Americans as a bargaining chip in its dealings with Washington. Some were freed only after former American presidents travelled to the North to seek their release.
In 2009,North Korea arrested two American journalists,Laura Ling and Euna Lee,who it said had entered illegally and committed hostile acts. They were sentenced to 12 years of hard labour,but were released five months later,after former President Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang,the Norths capital,and met with Kim Jong-il,the leader at the time.