• Press Release

U.S. Citizen’s Hard Labor Sentence in North Korea Shrouded in Secrecy

April 29, 2016

The government of North Korea must immediately disclose all details in the court case of U.S. citizen Kim Dong-chul, who was sentenced to 10 years’ hard labor for “spying,” in what appears to be yet another politically motivated decision, said Amnesty International today.

Kim, a 62-year-old who was born in South Korea, is the latest foreigner to be sentenced to hard labor.

“The timing of this sentence, amid increasing international tension, calls into question the motivation behind the proceedings. The judicial system is notoriously political, and foreign nationals in particular are very unlikely to receive a fair trial in the country, but few other details have been made public,” said Arnold Fang, East Asia Researcher of Amnesty International.

“This entire trial has been shrouded in secrecy, and the North Korean authorities must present the evidence for these alleged crimes and make court proceedings fully transparent, so that the international community can see whether a fair trial took place. Otherwise, questions about these convictions will continue.”

North Korean state media reports that Kim was arrested while trying to receive a USB drive containing sensitive military information.

Three foreigners have been handed long jail terms or hard labor in recent months, as fresh UN sanctions were authorized on the country and North Korea carried out several missile tests. They also come in the lead-up to the first Korean Worker’s Party Congress since 1980, on May 6, when international attention on North Korea is also likely to increase.

Foreigners typically have no access to lawyers or family while in detention, and may be under the risk of torture or other ill-treatment as they are forced to make public “confessions” in front of reporters.

Hyeon Soo Lim, a Canadian pastor, was sentenced to life in prison with hard labor for the alleged crime of “subversion” in December 2015. American student Frederick Otto Warmbier was also convicted of subversion, sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in March, despite only admitting to theft of a propaganda banner while staying in a hotel in Pyongyang.