The Korea Herald


North Korea to put U.S. citizen on trial Sept. 14

By 윤민식

Published : Sept. 7, 2014 - 10:45

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Mathew Miller, an American detained in North Korea, speaks to the Associated Press, Monday in Pyongyang, North Korea. (AP-Yonhap News) Mathew Miller, an American detained in North Korea, speaks to the Associated Press, Monday in Pyongyang, North Korea. (AP-Yonhap News)

SEOUL, Sept 07, 2014 (AFP) - North Korea will put a detained U.S. citizen on trial on September 14, state media said Sunday, less than a week after Matthew Miller made a highly unusual televised plea for help from Washington.

Miller, one of three Americans being held in North Korea, was arrested in April after Pyongyang said he ripped up his visa at immigration and demanded asylum.

"The Supreme Court of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) decided to hold on September 14 a court trial on American Matthew Todd Miller, now in custody according to the indictment of a relevant institution," the official news agency KCNA said.

The statement offered no further details.

North Korea said in June it would put Miller and another detained U.S. citizen, Jeffrey Fowle, on trial on unspecified charges related to "perpetrating hostile acts".

On September 1, Miller -- along with Fowle and the third U.S. citizen being held in North Korea, Kenneth Bae -- pleaded for their freedom as Pyongyang minders looked on in an interview with CNN.

They urged Washington to send an envoy to the isolated authoritarian state to negotiate their release.

"My situation is very urgent," Miller said during the interview.

"I think this interview is my final chance to push the American government into helping me," he added, wearing a dark turtleneck and often looking away from the interviewer.

U.S. officials vowed after the interviews were aired that they would "leave no stone unturned" in their efforts to free the three men.

But State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki refused to outline U.S. efforts publicly, saying Washington did not want to jeopardise any diplomacy.

She would not discuss whether Washington was prepared to send a high-level envoy to Pyongyang as it has in past cases, when former president Bill Clinton and ex-governor Bill Richardson successfully won the release of detained Americans.

"We continue to work actively to secure these three U.S. citizens' release," she said.

The State Department said there was no update to Psaki's earlier remarks after the North's announcement Sunday.

Fowle entered the North on April 29 and was detained after reportedly leaving a Bible at a hotel.

Bae was arrested in November 2012 and later sentenced to 15 years of hard labor on charges of seeking to topple the North Korean government.

Washington has no diplomatic ties with North Korea, and the Swedish embassy acts as a go-between in such consular cases. Swedish officials last visited Bae on August 11, and saw Fowle and Miller in late June.

The trial date for Miller has been set as the North launches a diplomatic offensive by sending senior diplomats on rare trips to Europe -- and, possibly, to the U.S.

Kang Sok-Ju, secretary of the central committee of the ruling Workers' Party, arrived Saturday for a European tour including Germany and Italy.

Foreign Minister Ri Su-Yong reportedly plans to visit New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly later this month, in the first visit to the U.S. by anyone in the role of North Korea's top diplomat in 15 years.

As part of the renewed diplomatic campaign, Pyongyang will use the U.S. detainees as a bargaining chip to force Washington to the negotiating table, said Kim Yong-Hyun, professor of North Korean Studies in Dongguk University.

"The North is hoping that the U.S. will send a senior-level envoy (to the North) and hoping in this process to improve ties with Washington and make progress in nuclear negotiations," Kim said.

A number of foreigners have been detained in the North for years, many for alleged involvement in religious activities.

Some were allowed to return home afterwards due to old age, or after intervention by high-profile U.S. figures.

A 75-year-old Australian, John Short, was detained for 13 days until early March after distributing religious material in Pyongyang.

He was deported after signing a detailed "confession" and apology.

Eddie Jun Yong-Su, a Korean American businessman, was detained for six months for apparent missionary activities, and freed in 2011 after former U.S. President Jimmy Carter pleaded for his release.

Last year, a 85-year-old U.S. Korean War veteran Merrill Newman was held for more than a month in the North after enquiring about North Korean veterans.

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

Pyongyang views foreign missionaries as seditious elements intent on fomenting unrest and posing threats to its leadership.

The Kim family, including the current leader Kim Jong-Un, has been ruling the impoverished, isolated state for three generations with an iron fist and pervasive personality cult.