North Korea’s Supreme Court has sentenced US citizen Matthew Miller to six years’ hard labour for “hostile” acts, two weeks after he and two other detained Americans had pleaded for help from Washington.
Miller becomes the second American serving a hard labour prison term in the North amid accusations that Pyongyang is using them to extract political concessions from Washington.
The 24-year-old was arrested in April after he allegedly ripped up his visa at immigration and demanded asylum.
“He committed acts hostile to the (North) while entering the territory of the (North) under the guise of a tourist last April,” the state-run KCNA news agency said in announcing Sunday’s court ruling.
The verdict came after Miller and the two other US detainees, Kenneth Bae and Jeffrey Fowle, pleaded for Washington’s help in a televised interview with CNN in Pyongyang.
“My situation is very urgent,” Miller told CNN.
“I think this interview is my final chance to push the American government into helping me.”
Bae, a Korean-American described by Pyongyang as a militant Christian evangelist, was sentenced last year to 15 years’ hard labour on charges of seeking to topple the North’s regime.
Fowle entered the North in April and was detained after reportedly leaving a Bible at a hotel. His trial has been announced but no specific date has been set.
Washington has vowed to “leave no stone unturned” in its efforts to free the trio and repeatedly urged Pyongyang to release them.
Analysts say Miller’s trial is part of Pyongyang’s wider efforts to capture US attention and force Washington to the negotiating table.
“The North probably knows the US is too busy with bigger crises in the Middle East and other regions,” Professor Yang Moo-Jin of Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies told AFP.
“But what else does the North have? This so-called ‘detainee diplomacy’ seems to be the only leverage left for them to catch US attention,” he said.
Washington has no diplomatic relations with Pyongyang and, in the past, North Korea has released detained Americans after visits by former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.
The US special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, Robert King, has twice tried to visit the North to secure Bae’s release, only for Pyongyang to cancel at the last minute. [AFP]