American Citizen Sentenced to 15 Years in a North Korean Labor Camp

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Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American who lives in Washington state, was condemned to 15 years of hard labor by a North Korean court this week, prompting rumors of a possible diplomatic rescue mission. Bae, who is a frequent visitor to North Korea, was arrested last November and accused of "hostile acts" against the state, though no one is actually sure what he's specifically accused of or how he might have done it. Friends say Bae runs tours for foreign visitors to the DPRK but often uses the trips an opportunity to help the nation's orphans.

Don't worry too much about Bae's fate, however. Of the last six Americans to be arrested in North Korea, all were deported or released without serving their sentence. (Although we're sure any amount of time spent in a North Korean jail cell can't be very pleasant.) One expert on the region calls his conviction "bait" to lure a high-profile ambassador to Pyongyang for negotiations, as Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter have done in the past. South Korean media has already been speculating about Carter possibly returning to secure Bae's release.

Officially, the American government frowns upon such visits, believing them to be propaganda tools for Korean leaders—but they also don't want to see one of their own rot in the notoriously cruel North Korean gulags. The State Department says they have been trying to secure Bae's release, using the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang as a diplomatic proxy, but have had no luck so far. Tensions had been rising pretty high between the North and the U.S.-South Korean alliance this year, but seems to have cooled off in recent weeks, particularly after the Boston Marathon bombing commanded all of America's attention.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.