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North Korea sentences South Korean 'spy' to hard labour for life

Published on May 31, 2014 12:52 PM
South Korean missionary, identified by the North as Kim Jong Uk, adjusts his glasses during a news conference in Pyongyang on Feb 27, 2014 file photo provided by Kyodo. North Korea sentenced Kim Jong Uk to life with hard labour on May 30, 2014 after convicting him of espionage and setting up an underground church. North Korea's official KCNA news agency reported that the South Korean, identified as Kim Jong Uk, had admitted his guilt at a court trial held on Friday. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (AFP) - North Korea sentenced a South Korean missionary to hard labour for life after accusing him of espionage and setting up an underground church, state media said on Saturday, the latest Christian preacher to run into trouble in the secretive state. Prosecutors had sought a death sentence for Kim Jeong Wook, identified by the North's official news agency Kcna as Kim Jong Uk, during Friday's trial. However, according to Kcna, Kim confessed his guilt - including state subversion, espionage, anti-state propaganda and agitation, and illegal entry into the country - and "sincerely repented".

"The accused admitted to all his crimes," Kcna said in its report on the trial. "He committed anti-Dprk religious acts, malignantly hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of the Dprk (North Korea) overseas and tried to infiltrate into Pyongyang ... for the purpose of setting up underground church and gathering information about the internal affairs of the Dprk while luring its inhabitants into South Korea and spying on the DPRK."

Although religious freedom is enshrined in the North Korean constitution, it does not exist in practice and religious activity is severely restricted to officially-recognised groups linked to the government.

Pyongyang views foreign missionaries as seditious elements intent on fomenting unrest and those who are caught engaging in any unauthorised activities in the North are subject to immediate arrest. Instead of facing execution, Kim was sentenced to hard labour for life by the North's Supreme Court, the report said.

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