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U.S. citizen to be tried in North Korea

April 27, 2013|By Barbara Demick
  • A North Korean flag hangs prominently in Pyongyang's Supreme Court.
A North Korean flag hangs prominently in Pyongyang's Supreme Court. (Associated Press )

BEIJING -- North Korea said Saturday that a U.S. citizen held since November will be tried on charges of trying to overthrow the government, an offense that could carry the death penalty.

The man is 44-year-old Kenneth Bae, also known by his Korean name, Pae Jun Ho, of Lynnwood, Wash. Described as a tour operator, he was arrested in the special economic zones in Rason, in the northeast of the country.

"In the process of investigation he admitted that he committed crimes aimed to topple the DPRK [North Korea] with hostility," the official KCNA news service reported.

Pyongyang has not detailed what it was that Bae allegedly did, but people  in the aid community said he was a devout Christian. Many Korean American groups work out of the North Korean border region bringing humanitarian aid into North Korea, sometimes serving as missionaries or helping defectors.  Even bringing a Bible into North Korea carries a harsh punishment.

His case might be hurt as well by the ongoing tumult over North Korea’s nuclear test in February.

In recent years, six American citizens have been held by North Korea and used by the regime as bargaining chips. The best known were journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who were arrested in 2009 while filming a television documentary at the Chinese-Korean border. They were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor, but were released after a visit by former President Clinton. Former President Carter interceded successfully the following year on behalf of Aijalon Gomes, a teacher and missionary held for crossing illegally into the country.

Former U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson tried to see Bae in January when he visited the country with Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, but he was only permitted to pass on a letter from Bae’s family.

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