Friday, May 3, 2013

North Korea: US Citizen Sentenced to 15 Years in Prison, Possible Link to Type of Visa

A US citizen, Kenneth Bae, 44, also known by his South Korean birth name, Pae Jun-ho, was sentenced to 15 years hard labor in North Korea on Tuesday (April 30) after entering the country as a tourist.

Bae, 44, a tour company director, was arrested on November 3, 2012, after entering North Korea with four other tourists for a five-day trip, and has been jailed by the North Korean government ever since. He was sentenced this week on charges of  “hostile acts” against the country.

Mr. Bae, who is married with children, is a committed Christian and is thought to have used his trips to north Korea for humanitarian work.

COMMENT: Unfortunately, Bae's sentencing comes at a very bad time politically, considering that Pyongyang’s third nuclear test was recently conducted, with no clear assessment as to when their nuclear capability will be fully realized.

North Korean media said last week that Bae had admitted to the charges against him, including attempting to overthrow the government, although there is no way of determining whether such admissions were ever made.

There are also indications that Kenneth Bae may have taken photographs of starving children in North Korea while in the country as a tour operator. If this is true, it would have given the Pyongyang government useful evidence to use during Bae's "trial." 

Objectively speaking, it was very imprudent of Mr. Bae to have traveled to the North, particularly given his South Korean heritage, which would immediately cause him to be perceived as a suspected spy.

If he indeed was escorting a tour group to North Korea with no ulterior motives, he should have applied for a business visa if he was being compensated for his work. If he wasn't being compensated, that would clearly give the North Koreans an opportunity to arrest him for entering the country as a "tourist." 

As I have said in the past, it is very unwise for native-born South Koreans, even if naturalized in another country, to visit North Korea for any purpose, considering that a minimum, they will be kept under surveillance for the duration of their visit, and worse, tried, convicted and imprisoned for many years to come.  

It should also be noted that Bae was arrested immediately after entering the DPRK after entering Rason City as a tourist. Clearly, government agents were just waiting for him to make a mistake.