North Korea sentences U.S. citizen to six years in a labor camp

The Stalinist throwback country of North Korea put an American citizen, Matthew Miller, on trial on over the weekend for “hostile acts” against the Democratic People’s Republic. Miller faced North Korea’s especially swift brand of justice and, after a few hours, the man was convicted of crimes against the state and sentenced to six years of hard labor.

The nation’s state news agency claims that Miller, once a resident of Bakersfield, California, was arrested after entering North Korea on a tourist visa in the spring. The New York Times reported that North Korean authorities claim the American man engaged in “unruly behavior” and “tore up his visa at the Pyongyang airport and demanded asylum.”

“In earlier interviews with The Associated Press and CNN, which were conducted with North Korean officials present, Mr. Miller had said he apologized for his crimes but did not discuss whether he asked for asylum,” The Times report read.

Miller is believed to be between the ages of 24 and 25-years-old.

Miller joins the Christian missionary Kenneth Bae as the second American to be arrested by DPRK authorities and sentenced to serve a sentence out in hard labor. A third American, Jeffrey Fowle, is currently awaiting trial in North Korea.

“North Korea has yet to announce a trial date for a third U.S. citizen Jeffrey Fowle, 56, from Miamisburg, Ohio, who was arrested in May this year for leaving a bible under a bin in the toilet of a sailor’s club in the eastern port city of Chongjin,” Reuters reported. “A source familiar with the case told Reuters it was unclear why Fowle left the bible behind, but said the 56-year old did not seem to be overtly religious.”

All of the American captives have pleaded with Washington to send a high-ranking envoy to North Korea to negotiate their release, suggesting that the Americans are being used as hostages to exact a ransom from the United States. Washington has offered to send its envoy on human rights to negotiate the release of the Americans, but North Korea did not agree and reportedly seeks a visit from a higher level official.

There are many compelling and horrifying accounts of what life is like in the North Korean gulags. Former citizen of the DPRK, Kang Chol-Hwan, was sentenced along with his family to a decade in the camps. After fleeing the country and escaping to the West, he described his experience in the book Aquariums of Pyongyang.

“People who are hungry don’t have the heart to think about others. Sometimes they can’t even care for their own family. Hunger quashes man’s will to help his fellow man. I’ve seen fathers steal food from their own children’s lunchboxes. As they scarf down the corn they have only one overpowering desire: to placate, if even for just one moment, that feeling of insufferable need.”

“I once believed man was different from other animals, but Yodok showed me that reality doesn’t support this opinion. In the camp, there was no difference between man and beast, except maybe that a very hungry human was capable of stealing food from its little ones while an animal, perhaps, was not.”

This may not be the fate that awaits Miller, but it is what millions of North Koreans have endured or succumbed to over the course of decades.