American ‘would-be spy’ in North Korea gets six years

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North Korea’s Supreme Court has convicted a 24-year-old American man of entering the country illegally to commit espionage and sentenced him to six years of hard labour.

At a trial that lasted about 90 minutes, the court said Matthew Miller, of Bakersfield, California, tore up his tourist visa at Pyongyang’s airport upon arrival on April 10 and admitted to having the “wild ambition” of experiencing prison life so that he could secretly investigate North Korea’s human rights situation.

Mr Miller, who looked thin and pale at the trial and was dressed completely in black, is one of three Americans being held in North Korea.

Showing no emotion throughout the proceedings, Mr Miller waived the right to a lawyer and was handcuffed before being led from the courtroom after his sentencing. The court, comprising a chief judge flanked by two “people’s assessors”, ruled it would not hear any appeals to its decision.

Earlier, it had been believed that Mr Miller had sought asylum when he entered North Korea. During the trial, however, the prosecution argued that was a ruse and that Mr Miller also falsely claimed to have secret information about the US military in South Korea on his iPad and iPod.

Mr Miller was charged under Article 64 of the North Korean criminal code, which is for espionage and can carry a sentence of five to 10 years, though harsher punishments can be given for more serious cases.

A trial is expected soon for one of the other Americans being held, Jeffrey Fowle, who entered the North as a tourist and was arrested in May for leaving a Bible at a sailor’s club in the city of Chongjin. The third American, Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae, is serving a 15-year sentence for alleged “hostile acts”.

All three have appealed to the US government to intervene on their behalf. Mr Miller last week said he had written to President Barack Obama but had not received a reply. Following yesterday’s verdict, the US state department urged North Korea to release Mr Miller, as well as Mr Bae and Mr Fowle.