North sentences missionary to life of hard labor

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North sentences missionary to life of hard labor

North Korea said Saturday it has sentenced a South Korean Baptist missionary to hard labor for life for allegedly spying and trying to set up underground churches, the latest in a string of missionaries to run into trouble in the rigidly controlled North.

North Korean state media said the missionary was tried Friday and admitted to anti-North Korean religious acts and “malignantly hurting the dignity’’ of the country’s supreme leadership, a reference to the ruling Kim family. The rival Koreas have different English spelling styles for Korean names, so the North called the missionary Kim Jong-uk, but Seoul has previously referred to him as Kim Jung-wook.

Christian missionaries have been drawn over the years to totalitarian North Korea, which tolerates only strictly sanctioned religious services. North Korean defectors have said that the distribution of Bibles and secret prayer services can mean banishment to a labor camp or execution.

North Korea said in a dispatch dated Friday but released early Saturday that Kim had defense counsel, but the details of the trial could not be independently confirmed.

North Korea does not have an independent judiciary, does not provide fair trials and imposes rigid controls over many aspects of its citizens’ lives, including in religious matters, according to the U.S. State Department.

The unidentified North Korean defense attorney said that Kim “sincerely repented of his crimes and apologized for them’’ and requested that the court commute the death sentence demanded by prosecutors.

The North said that an expert produced “evidence such as religious books, memory cards, sex CDs and spying devices carried by the accused for criminal purposes.’’

Outside analysts have said that North Korea has previously used foreign detainees as bargaining chips in efforts to receive outside aid and political concessions.

The sentencing comes amid rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula, which is still technically in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

The rivals’ warships traded artillery fire this month near a disputed sea boundary, though no blood was shed.

Pyongyang has also staged a series of missile and artillery tests, and its media have put out racist and sexist rhetoric aimed at the leaders of the U.S. and South Korea.

AP

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