North sentences American to 8 years hard labor

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North sentences American to 8 years hard labor

North Korea has sentenced an American man to eight years of hard labor and a fine of roughly $700,000 for illegally entering North Korea and unspecified hostile acts, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said yesterday.

The news comes as the United States has been putting pressure on the North to return to the stalled international nuclear disarmament talks, and could further strain the reclusive state’s ties with Washington.

North Korea has previously used detained American citizens as bargaining chips.

Thirty-year-old Aijalon Mahli Gomes, who comes from Boston, was put on trial last month after crossing into the North from China in January.

“His guilt was confirmed according to the relevant articles of the criminal code of the DPRK [North Korea],” KCNA said. “The accused admitted all the facts of which he had been accused.”

KCNA said Swedish embassy representatives witnessed the trial, an exception allowed to protect the interests of the United States, which does not have formal diplomatic ties with North Korea. The U.S. State Department had no immediate comment.

Gomes taught English in Seoul for about two years before making the trip to North Korea. He was active in Protestant churches, his colleagues said.

He likely crossed into North Korea in support of U.S. Christian missionary Robert Park, who entered the North on Christmas Day to raise awareness about its human rights abuses, said an activist who helped arrange Park’s trip.

Park was released in February after the North’s official media said he confessed to his crimes.

In previous cases, North Korea has typically released Americans a few months after their capture after trying to win concessions from Washington.


Reuters, AP

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