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US citizen sentenced to hard labor in North Korea for 'confessed' espionage

A Korean-American businessman, Kim Dong Chul, has been sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in North Korea. He is one of six foreigners being held by North Korea.

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    Korean-American Kim Dong Chul, seen here entering a courtroom in Pyongyang, North Korea, was sentenced to 10 years hard labor on Friday.
    KCNA/Reuters
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North Korea sentenced an American citizen to 10 years hard labor on Friday, the second such sentence the reclusive nation has handed down since January.

The convicted US citizen, Kim Dong Chul, has Korean heritage. Mr. Kim was accused of espionage and subversion, and found guilty by North Korea's Supreme Court of those crimes under Articles 60 and 64 of the country's criminal code.

"The accused confessed to all crimes he had committed," said the North Korean news agency KCNA, "and gathered and offered information on its party, state and military affairs to the south Korean puppet regime, which are tantamount to state subversive plots and espionage."

Although Kim admitted to spying for South Korea in a plot to bring down the North Korean government and spread religion during a media event last month, South Korea's National Intelligence Service denied any connection to the man.

It is therefore unclear whether or not Kim actually committed the crimes he has been accused of.

Given that North Korea regularly accuses individuals of spying for South Korea or the United States, it seems unlikely that Kim actually committed the crime. The North Korean government has also been known to force prisoners to read statements of guilt that later are revealed to be false.

Just last month, North Korea sentenced an American college student, Otto Warmbier, to 15 years of hard prison labor after he committed a "hostile act" during a New Year's trip to the country by attempting to steal a propaganda poster while in the country.

Currently, North Korea is holding six foreigners, including Kim and Mr. Warmbier.

The good news for Kim and Warmbier is that few foreigners held by North Korea serve the length of their sentences. Most are released after visits by high profile foreign dignitaries.

In the past, these dignitaries have included US spy chief James Clapper and former President Bill Clinton.

Mr. Clapper visited North Korea in 2014 to bring home a Korean-American missionary, Kenneth Bae, and a tourist named Matthew Miller.

Mr. Clinton visited Pyongyang in 2009 to secure the release of two journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling.

Foreigners held by North Korea have had varying experiences. Tourist Jeffrey Fowle, arrested for leaving a Bible in a club several years ago, was held under what amounted to house arrest. Ms. Lee told The Washington Post that she was held under similar conditions.

Mr. Bae, on the other hand, served in an agricultural labor camp, where he worked six days a week and lost 60 pounds.

North Korea plans to hold its first party congress in 36 years in early May.

This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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