A Bakersfield, Calif., man was sentenced to six years of hard labor in North Korea on Sunday in a quickie trial.
The Korean Central News Agency said Matthew Miller “committed acts hostile to the DPRK while entering the territory of the DPRK under the guise of a tourist last April.”
The 24-year-old was denied the right to make any appeal of his sentence.
Miller allegedly wanted to investigate the deplorable human rights conditions in North Korea. Pyongyang said the Californian tore up his visa after arriving in the country.
“A relevant organ of the DPRK put in custody American Miller Matthew Todd, 24, on April 10 for his rash behavior in the course of going through formalities for entry into the DPRK to tour it,” reported KCNA at the time of his arrest.
New Jersey-based Uri Tours staff last saw Miller in Beijing, where they “saw him off to Pyongyang” to meet a local tour guide.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf was asked Friday whether the U.S. was stepping in to try to stop Miller’s trial.
“We have requested the DPRK immediately release him and the other detained Americans so they can return home,” Harf said. “As we’ve said, we don’t always publicly outline all of the ways we are working to return our citizens home, but we are very focused on this and have called on the DPRK to release him.”
“We stand w/ Matthew Todd Miller, an American given 6 yrs hard labor.
#NorthKorea should release Miller, Fowle & Bae on humanitarian grounds,” the House Foreign Affairs Committee Democrats tweeted.
The White House didn’t have comment. Miller becomes the second American serving time in North Korea.
Devout Christian Kenneth Bae, sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor last year, thought he could help suffering North Koreans in part by leading a tour company in the special economic zones that would help reveal the people’s plight.
One more American has yet to face trial.
“American citizen Jeffrey Edward Fowle entered the DPRK as a tourist on April 29 and acted in violation of the DPRK law, contrary to the purpose of tourism during his stay,” the official Korean Central News Agency reported on June 6. “A relevant organ of the DPRK detained him and is investigating him.”
Fowle, 56, is from Miamisburg, Ohio, and works in street maintenance. His family’s lawyer said in a statement last month that he “loves to travel and loves the adventure of experiencing different cultures and seeing new places.” He’s accused of leaving a Bible in a restaurant.
In an unusual move, North Korea paraded all three American prisoners in front of a CNN reporter two weeks ago.
Miller gave a stiff, awkward statement asking the U.S. to help him, stressing “my situation is very urgent, that very soon I am going to trial, and I would directly be sent to prison.”
Bae asked his family and friends to “continue to pray for me.”
His son Jonathan has launched an online petition to ask Secretary of State John Kerry to demand amnesty for his father.
“My father—like any other American father—was working hard to provide for his family. Through his tour company that he started, he was able to show the natural beauty of North Korea to many. My father was arrested on November 3, 2012 while working as a tour operator in Rason (Rajin-Sonbong), one of North Korea’s special economic zones for foreign investors. My father is a good man with the biggest heart for the people and nation of North Korea, and now he has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for what the DPRK identified as anti-government activities,” Jonathan Bae writes on the petition.
“…He has chronic health conditions, including diabetes, heart problems and back pain, which require close monitoring and medical treatment. We don’t know how quickly his health will deteriorate and how much longer his body can withstand the impact of the labor camp.”
In the prison interview, Jonathan noted, his father “asked for help from the United States government.”
“He tells us that the only way to bring him home will be for the United States government to take more proactive action to secure Special Amnesty from the DPRK. My father had hopes of being home to celebrate his father’s 70th birthday, which was on the Fourth of July. I can only imagine that his hope now is to make it through another day, one day at a time until he is finally reunited with his family,” the son continues.
“My family and I have hopes, too. We have been distraught by my father’s deteriorating health and his sentence of hard labor. However, we have not given up hope because we have faith in our government to represent and protect American citizens here and abroad.”