North Korea said on Wednesday it has sentenced an American man to eight years’ hard labour and a fine equivalent to $700,000 for entering the country illegally and unspecified hostile acts.
Aijalon Mahli Gomes was fined 70 million North Korean won after acknowledging his wrongdoing during a court trial on Tuesday, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said in a brief dispatch. North Korea’s official exchange rate is 100 won to the dollar.
Representatives of the Swedish Embassy in North Korea, which looks after U.S. interests in the country, witnessed the trial, the KCNA report said.
The North said last month that it arrested Gomes, 30, of Boston on January 25 for trespassing after he crossed into the country from China.
Gomes, who had been teaching English in South Korea, is the fourth American detained in North Korea on charges of illegal entry in little over 12 months.
No details have emerged about why Gomes, a graduate of Bowdoin College in Maine who taught English in South Korea, went to the North. However, a Seoul-based activist — Jo Sung-rae — said Gomes may have been inspired by his acquaintance with an American missionary who made a similar trip to the North in December.
The missionary, Robert Park, strode into North Korea from China on a self-proclaimed mission to draw attention to North Korea’s human rights record and to call for leader Kim Jong Il to step down. He was released in February after more than 40 days in custody.
Two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, were arrested in March last year near the Chinese border and sentenced to 12 years of hard labour for illegal entry and engaging in hostile acts. They were freed in August after former U.S. President Bill Clinton made a high-profile humanitarian visit to Pyongyang to negotiate their release.
The State Department has said the U.S. wants to make sure that Gomes is returned to the United States as soon as possible.