North Korea sentences U.S. citizen Matthew Miller to six years hard labor


North Korea sentenced U.S. citizen Matthew Todd Miller to six years hard labor for committing “hostile acts” as a tourist to the country, a statement carried by state media said on Sunday, as the United States requested his immediate pardon and release.

Miller joins Kenneth Bae to become the second American currently serving a hard labor sentence in North Korea. A third, Jeffrey Fowle, is awaiting trial.

“He committed acts hostile to the DPRK while entering the territory of the DPRK under the guise of a tourist last April,” the short statement said. The Korean version of the statement described Miller's punishment as a “labor re-education” sentence.

Miller, from Bakersfield, California and in his mid-20s, entered North Korea in April this year whereupon he tore up his tourist visa and demanded Pyongyang grant him asylum, according to a release from state media at the time. He was traveling without foreign guides, according to Uri Tours, the company that organized the trip.

North Korea has not publicly elaborated on Miller's charges, but the Associated Press, which was able to attend the trial, said Miller was tried under Article 64 of the North Korean criminal code which refers to espionage.

Photos of the trial released by state media showed some of Miller's personal possessions, including his passport, iPhone, iPad, notebook and North Korean visa – which appeared to be ripped. Miller was shown sitting in a witness box, flanked by North Korean soldiers.

The prosecution argued Miller's reported claims for asylum had been a “ruse”, and that he had falsely claimed to have secret information on his iPad and iPhone about the U.S. military stationed in South Korea, the Associated Press said.

The court said Miller had torn up his visa in order to investigate the North Korean human rights situation from within a North Korean prison, according to the Associated Press.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Darby Holladay said the United States requests that North Korea pardon both Miller and Bae “and grant them amnesty and immediate release so they may reunite with their families.”

In a statement, Holladay said the State Department “strongly recommends against all travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea.”

North Korea has yet to announce a trial date for the third U.S. citizen, Jeffrey Fowle, 56, from Miamisburg, Ohio, who was arrested in May for leaving a Bible under a bin in the toilet of a sailor's club in the eastern port city of Chongjin.

Holladay added that “out of humanitarian concern for Jeffrey Fowle and his family” the United States also asks that North Korea grant him amnesty and immediate release.

The U.S. missionary Bae has been held since December 2012 and is serving a sentence of 15 years hard labor for crimes North Korea said amounted to a plot to overthrow the state.

Earlier this month, international media were granted rare access to the three detained Americans, who in separate interviews all called on the United States to secure their release.

'CITIZENS AS PAWNS'

North Korea, which is under heavy United Nations sanctions related to its nuclear and missile programs, is believed to be using the detained U.S. citizens to extract a high-profile visit from Washington, with whom it has no formal diplomatic ties.

Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel, the senior U.S. diplomat for East Asia, said on Friday that the three Americans were being used as “pawns” and their detention was “objectionable”.

Pyongyang has in the past released detained U.S. citizens to delegations led by former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, but North Korea has twice canceled visits by Robert King, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, to discuss Kenneth Bae's case.

Tourism to North Korea has increased markedly in the past few years, despite the recent string of arrests, with some operators estimating a tenfold increase in Western visitors over the last ten years.

“Although we ask a series of tailored questions on our application form … it's not always possible for us to foresee how a tourist may behave during a DPRK tour,” said Andrea Lee, CEO of Uri Tours, the U.S.-based company that organized Miller's tour to the country, also known by its official 'DPRK' acronym.

“Unfortunately, there was nothing specific in Mr. Miller's tour application that would have helped us anticipate this unfortunate outcome,” Lee said in an emailed statement.

North Korea on Saturday released a 50,000-word report on its human rights record in rebuttal to a United Nations report earlier this year that said the country's leadership should be tried for ordering the systematic torture, starvation and killing of its people.

Additional reporting by Will Dunham in Washington; Editing by Kim Coghill and Rosalind Russell

Wandering columnist


Being a weekly columnist while visiting Israel can be really stressful. Every hour or so, you get hit with a potential subject for a column. After a few days now in the Holy Land, I have no clue how to pick from this embarrassment of riches. So let’s go on a mini-tour of some of those difficult choices.

My first night with my friend Yossi Klein Halevi was definitely a good candidate for a column. Yossi took me to the Mahane Yehuda Market (the shuk) in Jerusalem, which is as far in appearance from Century City Mall as Jerusalem is from Bakersfield. We walked through several alleyways overflowing with mostly food and spice vendors and ended up at this little restaurant called Mizrahi, which has a long history in the shuk.

The really interesting story of Mizrahi, though, is that several years ago, the daughter of the owner decided to study cooking in France. Apparently, she came back one day and said something like, “Hey, Dad, want a new menu?” I’m no foodie, but if I were, I would describe in detail how we feasted on Middle Eastern flavors married with the elegance and creativity of French cuisine. Here we were in this ancient market eating in an eclectic restaurant that would feel right at home in West Hollywood.

And conversing, of course, about how to save the Middle East.

I could also have written a few columns on some of the stuff I heard from cab drivers. My favorite ride was from a driver who considered himself an expert on the quality of Israeli food exports. For a solid half hour, I heard about how Israel was now “the best at everything.” According to my driver, Chaim, Israel has figured out how to make cheese so good they’re exporting it to France and Switzerland, and chocolate so good they are exporting it to Belgium, and wine so good they are winning international awards, and baked goods and pastries so good that Israeli chefs won a recent contest against top chefs in France.

If I’m not mistaken, I think he also mentioned something about the “best olive oil.”

Let’s put it this way. He may have been exaggerating a little, but I’m a sucker for great stories about Israeli ingenuity, so I’m not the best person to do the checking.

Speaking of Israeli ingenuity, another cab driver, who took me from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, went on at length about … human waste. Apparently, several years ago, someone had the brilliant idea of turning a massive waste dump off the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway into an ecology recycling center where students and tourists can learn the latest about recycling technology. From a waste dump to an eco-tourist attraction — how do you beat that? I checked this one out myself, and he was pretty accurate: What was once the notorious Hiriya garbage dump is now Ariel Sharon Park.

Another great subject for a column would be the restaurant Liliyot in Tel Aviv, which integrates a social project into its activities. The restaurant is owned by a group of entrepreneurs with a social vision. All the employees are former at-risk youths who are given an opportunity to integrate into society in a positive way. The service was so good that several waiters fell all over themselves to find me a Wi-Fi connection so I could file this column.

I could also have written a story on the utter absence of conversational discipline during business meetings. One of the reasons I’m here is to visit clients and potential clients for The Jewish Journal. Well, at a meeting with the largest hotel chain in Israel, I got a 20-minute history lesson on the story of Bulgarian Jews and how they were protected during World War II.

At another meeting with a major new developer in Tel Aviv, the client, a hard-core Zionist originally from Holland, showed me on his computer how he spends his nights fighting the PR war on online forums in Holland.

At yet another meeting with a representative of a Tel Aviv hotel, just as I was presenting a creative idea, the client interrupted me with a philosophic musing on how Israelis’ passion for life is an integral part of the “brand of Israel.” I nodded vigorously, hoping that that would create an opening for my pitch. It didn’t — it just made her get even more philosophical. Eventually, I thought of a way to convey my idea in a quick 10-second burst. She liked it, but it’s possible that what she really liked was that it only took me 10 seconds to explain it.

Over the next few days, I will cover the annual Herzliya Conference, a summit on global policy and Middle East affairs, which means another 30 or so possible columns. Meanwhile, I’ve been reading news sites and getting updates on things like the Likud elections, the Iran nuclear crisis, the nonexistent peace process, the committee report on the Carmel fire and the leadership struggle in Kadima.

This might be a country obsessed with political stories, but if you’re a wandering columnist visiting from Los Angeles, the best stories are definitely on the street.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.