Yellow Ribbon Project

Alleging Espionage, North Korea Sentences American to 10 Years of Hard Labor

Kim Dong-chul a U.S. citizen detained in North Korea, is escorted to his trial April 29, 2016, in Pyongyang, North Korea. (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon)

North Korea says it sentenced a South Korea-born U.S. citizen and businessman to a decade of hard labor on charges that he was collecting information intended to overthrow the communist regime.

Kim Dong-chul, 62, formerly of Fairfax, Va., was a frequent visitor to North Korea’s special economic zone near the border with China, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

He was detained in October, but Pyongyang only publicized his captivity after conducting a fourth nuclear test in January. Last month, North Korea released video of Kim pleading for mercy.

North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency said the quickie trial for the business owner was held today.

“In the course of the inquiry, the accused confessed to all crimes he had committed to overthrow the social system of the DPRK while viciously slandering the dignity of its supreme leadership and its political system and gathered and offered information on its party, state and military affairs to the south Korean puppet regime, which are tantamount to state subversive plots and espionages,” KCNA said.

The prosecutor called for 15 years of hard labor, the report said, before the court sentenced him to 10.

“The defense counsel asked the court to commute the demanded penalty, arguing that the crimes by the accused are very serious but he is old and may repent of his faults, witnessing for himself the true picture of the prospering DPRK,” KCNA added.

At the State Department, spokesman Mark Toner told reporters today that “as always with these kind of cases, you know, we’re aware” of Kim’s sentencing.

“We’ve seen the media reports that a U.S. citizen has been sentenced to, as you pointed out, 10 years of hard labor. I can’t because of privacy considerations, speak to it in detail. You know, we’ve seen this — these types of actions on the part of North Korea in the past,” Toner said.

“We will certainly work — continue to work with the Swedish embassy to provide whatever support we can provide to any American citizens detained in North Korea.”

Toner said they had not yet confirmed the sentence.

Last month, North Korea sentenced a University of Virginia student who was in the reclusive country on an organized tour to 15 years’ hard labor for allegedly stealing a regime propaganda sign.

Otto Warmbier, 21, was seized by North Korean officials on Jan. 2 before his flight was supposed to take off from Pyongyang. He was paraded before cameras last month for a tearful “confession,” admitting he took down a banner that was hanging in the hall of his hotel. “I made the worst mistake of my life,” he said.

North Korea claimed the student took the poster as a “hostile act” to disturb DPRK unity at the behest of the CIA, a college group and a church in his home state of Ohio.

“The allegations for which this individual was arrested and imprisoned, would not give rise to arrest or imprisonment in the United States or in just about any other country in the world,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on March 16.

“Now, despite official claims that U.S. citizens arrested in North Korea are not used for political purposes, it is increasingly clear that the North Korean government seeks to use these U.S. citizens as pawns to pursue a political agenda,” Earnest added.

North Korea has since tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile and is reportedly ready for its fifth nuclear test.