SEOUL, South Korea — An American detained for nearly six months in North Korea has been sentenced to 15 years of “compulsory labor” for unspecified crimes against the state, Pyongyang announced Thursday.
The sentencing of Kenneth Bae, described by friends as a devout Christian and a tour operator, will further complicate already strained relations between Pyongyang and Washington as the countries pursue tentative diplomacy following weeks of warlike threats from North Korea.
Pyongyang’s official state media said Bae’s trial took place Tuesday, but the dispatch provided few new details. Bae was tried in the country’s Supreme Court on charges of plotting to overthrow the government. He could’ve faced the death penalty.
The exact nature of his alleged crimes has not been revealed.
Bae was arrested in early November in Rason, a special economic zone in North Korea’s far northeastern region bordering China and Russia, North Korea said.
The trial mirrors a similar situation in 2009, when the U.S. and North Korea were locked in a standoff over Pyongyang’s decision to launch a long-range rocket and conduct an underground nuclear test. At the time, North Korea had detained two American journalists, whose eventual release after being sentenced to 12 years of hard labor paved the way for diplomacy following months of tensions.
In North Korean dispatches, Bae, a Korean American from Washington state, is called Pae Jun Ho, the North Korean spelling of his Korean name.