North Korea sentenced a detained American to 15 years of “compulsory labor,” punishment for what Pyongyang describes as an attempt to overthrow its government.
In a brief statement released by its state-run news agency, the North said the sentence for Kenneth Bae, a tour operator from Washington state, had been handed down by its Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Bae’s punishment complicates the decision-making for Washington, which had been hoping to open talks with the North only if Pyongyang showed signs of curbing its weapons program. The North has detained six Americans since 2009, using them in some cases to leverage high-profile rescue trips from former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
Bae was arrested last November while traveling with a small group in Rason, a special economic zone. The North has provided few specifics about Bae’s actions there, but activists in Seoul speculate he was perhaps found with pictures of hungry children.
Members from the Swedish embassy met with Bae last Friday, a U.S. State Department spokesman said.
“We are explicitly calling for the release of this U.S. citizen immediately on humanitarian grounds,” the spokesman, Patrick Ventrell, said Monday.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported Thursday that former President Carter is considering a trip to Pyongyang, both to push for the resumption of dialogue and negotiate the release of Bae. Carter wrote a latter recently to Secretary of State John F. Kerry expressing his interest, the Yonhap report said.