SEOUL, South Korea — The Supreme Court in North Korea on Sunday sentenced one of the three Americans known to be held in the country to six years of hard labor for committing “hostile acts” against the North.
North Korea said the American, Matthew Todd Miller of Bakersfield, California, committed the crime while entering the country on a tourist visa in April, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
The agency also carried photographs that showed Miller, who North Korean court records say is 25, in the defendant’s seat in the courtroom with his eyes downcast, and flanked by uniformed security officials. The news agency gave no further details of the trial.
But The Associated Press and The Choson Sinbo, a pro-North Korean newspaper in Japan, both of which were allowed to attend the trial, said that Miller was convicted on spy charges under Article 64 of the country’s criminal code.
Miller was accused of entering North Korea with the “ambition” to deliberately violate North Korean law so he could experience life in a North Korean prison and later become a firsthand witness about the human rights conditions in the North, The AP and The Choson Sinbo reported.
International attention to the North’s human rights conditions has grown since a United Nations commission of inquiry issued a report in February documenting what it called “widespread, systematic and gross” violations, including enslavement, torture, rape and executions in the North’s prison camps. The U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a resolution in March calling on the Security Council to take action.
The Choson Sinbo, quoting the North Korean court in its ruling on Miller, wrote, “His was an anti-state crime perpetrated under the protection and encouragement of the current U.S. government, which is intent on isolating and stifling our republic, and must be sternly punished.”
North Korea had earlier accused Miller of unruly behavior, saying that he had torn up his visa at the Pyongyang airport and demanded asylum. In interviews with The Associated Press and CNN, which were conducted while North Korean officials were present, Miller said he apologized for his crime but did not discuss whether he had asked for asylum.
The United States has no diplomatic ties with North Korea and relies on the Swedish Embassy to represent the interests of Americans held in the reclusive country. Washington has repeatedly offered to send its envoy for North Korean human rights issues,
The Choson Sinbo, quoting North Korean court records, reported on Sunday that Miller was born in California on Aug. 26, 1989, and visited South Korea before entering North Korea through China on April 10.
The newspaper said he had developed a deep hostility against North Korea while reading anti-North Korean publications.