North Korea announces it has sentenced US citizen Kenneth Bae, aka Pae Jun-ho, to 15 years of hard labor.
The announcement, from state news agency KCNA, said Pae Jun-ho, known in the US as Kenneth Bae, was tried on April 30.
Kenneth Bae was held last year after entering North Korea as a tourist. Pyongyang said he was accused of anti-government crimes.
The move comes amid high tensions between North Korea and the US, after Pyongyang’s third nuclear test.
North Korean media said last week that Pae Jun-ho had admitted charges of crimes against North Korea, including attempting to overthrow the government.
“The Supreme Court sentenced him to 15 years of compulsory labor for this crime,” KCNA said.
Kenneth Bae, 44, was arrested in November as he entered the northeastern port city of Rason, a special economic zone near North Korea’s border with China.
He is believed to be a tour operator of Korean descent. The Associated Press news agency also reports that he is described by friends as a devout Christian.
“We call on the DPRK [North Korea] to release Kenneth Bae immediately on humanitarian grounds,” US State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said on Monday.
North Korea has arrested several US citizens in recent years, including journalists and Christians accused of proselytism.
They were released after intervention from high-profile American figures, including former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, both of whom went to Pyongyang.
In 2009, Bill Clinton negotiated the release of two US journalists accused of entering North Korea illegally, Laura Ling and Euna Lee.
Held after North Korea’s second nuclear test, both had been sentenced to 12 years of hard labor before they were released.
Observers suggest Pyongyang could be using the jailed American as leverage, amid a very tense situation on the Korean peninsula.
The UN expanded sanctions against the communist state in March, in the wake of its February 12 nuclear test and December long-range rocket launch.
Pyongyang reacted angrily both to the measures and annual US-South Korea military exercises which saw high-profile displays of US military hardware.
It threatened to attack US military bases around the region and cut key hotlines with South Korea.
It has also withdrawn its workers from the North-South joint industrial zone at Kaesong, prompting South Korea to pull its staff out for the first time since the project was launched a decade ago.
Only seven South Koreans remain at Kaesong, a complex just inside North Korea where more than 120 South Korean firms operate using North Korea workers.
Seoul says they are negotiating final wage payments and should be returning South Korea soon.
The South Korean government has pledged 300 billion won ($273 million) in emergency loans for firms hit by the suspension at Kaesong.
US detainees in North Korea:
- Eddie Jun Yong-su: Businessman detained for six months in 2011, freed after a visit led by US envoy Robert King
- Aijalon Mahli Gomes: Teacher and Christian jailed in 2010 for eight years over illegal entry via China – freed after Jimmy Carter visited Pyongyang
- Robert Park: US activist crossed into North Korea via China in late 2009 – freed in 2010 by North Korea
- Laura Ling/Euna Lee: Jailed in 2009 for 12 years over illegal entry via the Chinese border – freed after Bill Clinton met Kim Jong-il