PYONGYANG, North Korea, May 2 (UPI) -- The United States urged North Korea to grant amnesty and release U.S. national Kenneth Bae, who has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in that country.
U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell, responding to a question on Bae's sentencing during his daily media briefing in Washington, said, "There is no greater priority for us than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad, and we urge the DPRK authorities to grant Mr. Bae amnesty and immediate release."
DPRK, or the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, is the official name for North Korea.
On Thursday, the official North Korean media reported that the country's Supreme Court had sentenced Bae, referred to as Pae Jun-ho in that country, to 15 years of hard labor for "committing hostile acts" against the country. The Korean Central News Agency said Bae was arrested last November while "committing hostile acts against the DPRK" after entering Rason City as a tourist, and that Bae, during a preliminary hearing, had "admitted that he committed crimes aimed to topple the DPRK with hostility toward it."
But the KCNA report gave no details.
Ventrell, noting the United States has long been concerned "about the lack of transparency and due process in the North Korean legal system," said the facts of the case are not known.
The United States does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea and Swedish diplomats had been representing the United States in the Bae case.
"So while some of the facts are limited to our knowledge – we don't know all of the facts – we are concerned that – broadly speaking, about the transparency and due process in North Korea, and we think he should be released," Ventrell said.
Bae, a Korean-American, had entered North Korea on a valid tourist visa, a senior U.S. official told CNN earlier. The report said while some Americans had previously crossed the border without a visa, either knowingly or unknowingly, Bae was a tour operator and has visited North Korea before and this time too he had a visa.