North Korea: U.S. Citizen Hard Labour Sentence Shrouded in Secrecy

The government of North Korea must immediately disclose all details of the court case of U.S. citizen Kim Dong-chul, sentenced to 10 years’ hard labour for “spying,” in what appears to be yet another politically motivated decision, said Amnesty International today.

The timing of this sentence, as tensions keep rising in the Korean Peninsula, and the lack of details about the alleged spying activities of the defendant suggests politically motivated proceedings.
Arnold Fang, East Asia Researcher at Amnesty International.

Kim, a 62-year-old who was born in South Korea, is the latest foreigner to be sentenced to hard labour in recent months. 

“The timing of this sentence, as tensions keep rising in the Korean Peninsula, and the lack of details about the alleged spying activities of the defendant suggests politically motivated  proceedings,” said Arnold Fang, East Asia Researcher at Amnesty International.

“The North Korean authorities ought to have presented clear evidence of the alleged crimes and make court proceedings fully transparent. Instead, the entire trial was shrouded in secrecy."

North Korean state media reports that Kim was arrested while trying to receive a USB drive containing sensitive military information.

Three foreigners have been handed long jail terms or hard labour in recent months, as fresh UN sanctions were authorized on the country and North Korea carried out several missile tests. These sentences also come in the lead-up to the first Korean Worker’s Party Congress since 1980, on May 6, when international attention on North Korea is likely to increase.

Anyone arrested in North Korea, is unlikely to receive a fair trial in the country. Foreign nationals tried in North Korea typically have no access to lawyers or family while in detention, and may be under risk of torture or other ill-treatment, especially when they are forced to make public “confessions” in front of reporters.

Hyeon Soo Lim, a Canadian pastor, was sentenced to life in prison with hard labour for the alleged crime of “subversion” in December 2015. American student Frederick Otto Warmbier was also convicted of subversion, sentenced to 15 years’ hard labour in March, despite only admitting to theft of a propaganda banner while staying in a hotel in Pyongyang.

*Please note this article was revised on 27 May 2016.