North Korean officials admitted on Friday that they have detained a Korean-born American citizen, accusing him of an unspecified "crime." Rumors had been swirling for a few weeks that a man who works as a guide for foreign tourists and investors looking to visit North Korea had been arrested on his most recent visit to the country. It wasn't until today however, that Pyongyang admitted that the reports were true. They also claim the man admitted to his crime after being presented with the evidence to prove it, even though they won't say what the crime is. South Korean news outlets reported that he may have been carrying "sensitive information" that was embarrassing to the North on his computer.
There remains some confusion about who the man is, and why he may have come under scrutiny in the first place. According to CBS, North Korean state media claims that they detained a man named Pae Jun Ho, who entered the country on November 3, posing as a tourist. However, Reuters says his name is Kenneth Bae (though that may simply be an American-ized version of it.) Some reports indicated he was the operator of a tour group that shepherds foreigners who might be interested in investing in North Korea, but he may merely have been piggybacking with such a group.
However, other reports say he was affiliated with a Protestant religious group. Americans have been arrested for proselytizing in North Korea in the past. South Korean sources have also speculated that his crime was carrying a hard drive with pictures of Korean orphans, or possibly even executions of prisoners. The punishment for most crimes in North Korea is hard labor.
U.S. officials have been aware of the arrest for sometime, but details are hard to come by and any negotiations for his release are going to be difficult, because the two countries do not have diplomatic relations. The Swedish embassy acts on America's behalf in Pyongyang and has been in contact with Bae.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.