Thursday, May 2, 2013

Bae sentenced to 15 years of hard labor

In a follow-up to an earlier post, a Korean-American tour operator who was arrested in North Korea for trying to depose the state has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. From BBC:
North Korea says it has sentenced a US citizen to 15 years of hard labour.

The announcement, from state news agency KCNA, said Pae Jun-ho, known in the US as Kenneth Bae, was tried on 30 April.

He was held last year after entering North Korea as a tourist. Pyongyang said he was accused of anti-government crimes.

The move comes amid high tensions between North Korea and the US, after Pyongyang's third nuclear test.

North Korean media said last week that Mr Pae had admitted charges of crimes against North Korea, including attempting to overthrow the government.

"The Supreme Court sentenced him to 15 years of compulsory labour for this crime," KCNA said.

Mr Pae, 44, was arrested in November as he entered the northeastern port city of Rason, a special economic zone near North Korea's border with China.

He is believed to be a tour operator of Korean descent. The Associated Press news agency also reports that he is described by friends as a devout Christian.

On the face of it, North Korea's decision to sentence a US citizen to 15 years' hard labour seems to be a direct challenge to Washington: another twist in the cycle of actions and rhetoric that have helped keep relations so tense over the past two months.

But Mr Pae is not the first American citizen to be arrested or tried in North Korea. Over the past few years, Pyongyang has detained two American journalists, a businessman, an English teacher and an activist.

Some were tried and sentenced to hard labour like Mr Pae. But all were released following negotiations - some of which involved unofficial visits by high-profile Americans like former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

So, while it may seem like another irritant to relations with Washington, the announcement of Mr Pae's conviction might actually be an attempt to draw US negotiators - even unofficial ones - to Pyongyang.

That would give North Korea a domestic propaganda victory, and it might also pave the way for more broader, more official, talks on the wider issues.

At the moment, North Korea is being offered talks on American terms - which include a commitment to dismantle its nuclear weapons programme. This is one way the regime can get a high-profile visitor to Pyongyang without any conditions at all.

South Korean activists say Mr Pae may have been arrested for taking photos of starving children in North Korea.

"We call on the DPRK [North Korea] to release Kenneth Bae immediately on humanitarian grounds," US State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said on Monday.

Diplomats from Sweden, which represents the US in North Korea in the absence of diplomatic ties, had been providing counsel to Mr Pae, reports said. The US State Department was working with the Swedish embassy to confirm the report of the sentencing, AP reported.
It's a sure bet that he probably will not serve anywhere near that kind of sentence, and it's only a matter of figuring out what kind of concessions are made so that he might be released.

A concession can be an actual offer of food aid or even money, or just a visit by high-profile American politico, such as former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson or former Pres. Bill Clinton or former Pres. Jimmy Carter. They have all gone in the past to fish out other American citizens of ended up in North Korean custody, but I suppose somebody like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton might also do.

Heck, somebody from the NBA might also suffice.

The timing — coinciding with all this tension that's occurred — is no coincidence. He was held for quite a while and then put on trial at just the right time. Perhaps this upping of the ante was intended to get a high-profile visit so that Pyongyang could save face and defuse the tension at the same time. We'll have to see.

So for now I'm not too terribly worried about Mr Bae. He's going to spend a little time at the Pyongyang Palazzo, but he will probably be home in time for the Fourth of July.

Please note that I have not yet referred to him as a Stupogant, because I'm not yet certain that his entry into North Korea and subsequent arrest really were based on something foolish.

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1 comment:

  1. I agree with you here. I don't think he will be chained like a dog and whipped like some North Koreans are (presumably). Don't think I'm a bad person, but I don't feel too sorry for this guy. Although, as you noted, we are not clear on what he did, but I just have to wonder about people (especially ethnic Koreans) who think they can go near the borders of NK and cause suspicion. Again, we still need more details on what happened, but if he's a missionary, there's little doubt on what he was thinking he could get accomplished.

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