Pae Jun-ho, or Kenneth Bae, as he is known in the US has been given 15 years of hard labor, and there are reports of him being used as a “bargaining chip” in the ongoing tensions between the US and North Korea.
Reports have arrived from North Korean state news agency KCNA
that Bae, a Korean born US citizen, was tried and found guilty on the 30th of April 2013. His sentence? 15 years of hard labor. His crime? "Hostile acts,”
according to AFP reporter Park Chan-Kyong who states that “he has been accused of trying to ‘topple the DPRK.’”
Bae, who is believed to be around 44 years old, has been imprisoned for the past 6 months. He was arrested last November while entering into the northeastern port in Rason city, an economic area on the North Korean border with China.
The exact motives for his detention have been unclear, but according to the AFP report, human rights activists in Seoul suspect that the devout Christian “was arrested because he had taken photographs of emaciated children in North Korea as part of efforts to appeal for more outside aid.” Another report
states that Bae “had been living in Dallan, a city on the Chinese-North Korea border, and had often crossed the border to hand out food to orphans.”
Whilst tensions soar high between the US government and Kim Jong-un’s regime, there is talk of Bae being used as leverage by the Koreans. “Kim Jong-Un's isolated regime is likely to use the detainee as a bargaining chip,” reports Chan-Kyong, “as it seeks concessions from the United States following weeks of bellicose threats of missile strikes and nuclear war.” On Monday, the US State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell pleaded with North Korea: "We call on the DPRK [North Korea] to release Kenneth Bae immediately on humanitarian grounds."
Bae is not the first American to be sentenced to hard labour in the recent years. Journalists, as well as other Christians have been imprisoned, with former presidents Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter both flying out to Pyongyang themselves to bargain for their release.