Pyongyang sentences American Christian to 15 years hard labor
by Joseph Yun Li-sun
Kenneth Bae is defined by some sources as a "devout Christian" who, in his visits to the North as a tour operator, always sought to keep the evangelization of the people alive. The United States had requested his release: Now, according to some analysts, a deal could open up in exchange for humanitarian aid.

Seoul (AsiaNews) - North Korea's Supreme Court this morning sentenced U.S. citizen Kenneth Bae to 15 years hard labor.  Bae is referred to by the regime authorities of with the Korean name Pae Jun-ho, (right in the picture).  He has been charged with  "committing crimes against the state." This was reported by the official government KCNA news agency, which has not explained the crimes he is accused of.

Bae, a Korean tour operator, but with American citizenship, was arrested in November while he was with five tourists who had come to North Korea through the north-eastern port of Rajin. According to the South Korean newspaper Kookmin Ilbo, the authorities in Pyongyang found "sensitive information" on the hard disk of the computer of one of the members of the group.

But some sources also referred to Bae as a "devout Christian" who, in his travels to the North, carried on missionary work that may have attracted the attention of the authorities and resulted in his arrest and conviction. In North Korea, there is no religious freedom and the faithful are in last place in the social hierarchy.

The sentence is the harshest ever issued by the judicial authorities of the North against a foreign national. Usually those guilty of murder, rape or robbery, or the followers of any religion that does not bend to control and State atheism are sentenced to hard labor.

According to some analysts, this decision demonstrates the regime's "desperation". Led by the young Kim Jong-un, Pyongyang is trying to return to the negotiating table with the international community after the escalation of tension in recent months. The threats, the closure of the inter-Korean Kaesong industrial area and the movement of missiles on the east coast - capable of striking the United States and Japan - have further isolated the country, which has also lost the support of China.

On 29 April last, the U.S. had asked the Pyongyang regime for "the immediate release" of Bae and received no answer. For the Korea Herald, this case resembles that of two American journalists arrested in 2009, sentenced to 12 years hard labor and then released thanks to the intervention of Clinton (then U.S. Secretary of State), which in turn allowed delivery of humanitarian aid to resume.