Otto Warmbier, 21, is not the first American to be sentenced to years of hard labour by North Korea - here are 7 others from recent years

By @giherela on
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    U.S. student Otto Warmbier reacts at a news conference in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang February 29, 2016. Reuters/KCNA
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    Otto Frederick Warmbier (R), a University of Virginia student who has been detained in North Korea since early January, bows during a news conference in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo February 29, 2016. Reuters/Kyodo
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    U.S. student Otto Warmbier cries at court in an undisclosed location in North Korea, in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on March 16, 2016. Reuters/KCNA
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North Korea sentenced 21-year-old American student, Otto Warmbier from the University of Virginia, to 15 years hard labour for crimes against the state on Wednesday.

A report from Xinhua, China’s official news agency, said Warmbier had admitted to stealing propaganda material from North Korea.

The ‘material’ in question was a political banner from a staff-only area at the Pyongyang hotel he had stayed in with his tour group. Warmbier was arrested as he was leaving the country in early January.

The US State Department has called the sentencing “unduly harsh”. Pyongyang and Washington does not have the best relationship, with the regime often accusing the US of sending operatives to North Korea to overthrow its government.

More info of Warmbier's arrest and sentence here

But while news of Otto Warmbier’s hard labour sentence has gone viral, he is not the first tourist, or even the first American, to be sentenced by North Korea to serve years of hard labour.

Canadian Pastor Hyeon Soo Lim

Sentencing: Hard labour for life

RTX1MHJH Hyeon Soo Lim speaks during a news conference at the People's Palace of Culture in Pyongyang, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 30, 2015.  Reuters/KCNA

Sixty-year-old Hyeon Soo Lim is a Toronto Pastor who reportedly works eight hours a day, six days a week in a North Korean prison orchard after being sentenced to hard labour for life in December 2015.

A report by CNN says the pastor who has travelled to North Korea over 100 times, has had no contact with the outside world since his sentencing.

It is believed Lim was doing humanitarian work in the country, but was accused by the court of trying to overthrow the government and undermine its social system with “religious activities”. Xinhua had reported that Lim confessed to helping people defect from North Korea, but a Reuters source said these claims were not true.

North Korean football coach Kim Jong-Hun

Sentencing: Forced to become a builder

RTR2FFZ4 North Korea's coach Kim Jong-hun watches his side train at the Green Point stadium in Cape Town, June 20, 2010.  Reuters/Mike Hutchings

Most countries would be disappointed if their national sporting team didn’t make it to the finals of an international competition, but in North Korea, failure to get past the group stage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup saw the entire national squad publicly criticised.

According to multiple reports, including The Telegraph, the North Korean soccer team was punished for “betraying” Kim Jong-Un after losing all three group games during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Coach Kim Jong-hun, who was made to shoulder the blame, was reportedly expelled from the Workers’ Party of Korea, and forced to become a builder.

Korean-American Kenneth Bae

Sentencing: 15 years hard labour

 

RTX17MMS Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American Christian missionary who has been detained in North Korea for more than a year, meets a limited number of media outlets in Pyongyang, in this photo taken by Kyodo January 20, 2014.  Reuters/Kyodo

North Korea’s Supreme Court sentenced Bae to 15 years of hard labour in 2013 for committing “hostile acts” against its government.

According to the Times, South Korean human rights advocates said the then 44-year-old tour operator had a heart for helping orphans in the communist country, and that security officials may have been offended by pictures Bae took of and with orphans.

After being detained for more than two years, Bae was released in 2014 along with 24-year-old Matthew Todd Miller. The duo were let go after a “top secret mission” by James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence to the Obama administration.

‘Asylum seeker’ Matthew Todd Miller

Sentencing: Six years of hard labour

RTR464ZW US citizen Matthew Todd Miller sits in a witness box during his trial at the North Korean Supreme Court in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 14, 2014.  Reuters/KCNA (NORTH KOREA)

Also accused of committing “hostile acts” in North Korea and sentenced in September 2014, Miller was a 24-year-old from Bakersfield, California who had reportedly torn up his tourist visa upon entering the country, demanding Pyongyang grant him asylum.

AP reporters said a North Korean court accused Miller of tearing up his visa to “investigate the North Korean human rights situation from within a North Korean prison”.

However, an article by NK News said Miller had damaged his visa on purpose, to gain a first-hand perspective of the country.

Miller was held for 210 days before being released with Bae. He had pleaded for help from the US in securing a release during a CNN interview.

South Korean missionary Kim Jeong-Wook

Sentencing: Hard labour for life

Tried and sentenced in 2014, Kim is a Baptist evangelist who was accused of spying and “malignantly hurting the dignity” of the country’s leadership, and illegally setting up underground churches.

The World Watch Monitor noted that Kim had been providing food and shelter to North Koreans living in Dandong, a Chinese north-eastern border city, for seven years. He is also said to have taught the refugees from the Bible.

When he entered the DPRK on October 8, 2014, he was arrested and interrogated by North Korean agents.

Kim is not the first, nor possibly the last missionary to be detained in North Korea. In February 2014, Australian John Short was also arrested for leaving Christian pamphlets near a Buddhist temple. He was released two weeks later after apologising.

RTR3FXKH Australian missionary John Short holds his written apology, in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on on March 3, 2014.  Reuters/KCNA

Similarly, American Jeffrey Fowle was arrested in 2014 for leaving a bible at a sailor’s club. He was allowed to go home to Ohio five months after being held in detention.

American Journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee

Sentencing: 12 years of hard labour

RTR26FGW American journalists Laura Ling (top) and Euna Lee disembark from the plane that brought them back from North Korea in Burbank, California August 5, 2009.  Reuters/Danny Moloshok

Ling and Lee, reporters for San Francisco’s Current TV, were covering a story about North Korean women being forced into arranged marriages or the sex trade if they were caught defecting to China, when they were arrested by North Korean officials.

According to the AFP, the journalists said they spent no more than a minute on North Korean soil “before turning back” to Chinese soil, but were “lured” across the border by their Korean-Chinese guide.

“We tried with all our might to cling to bushes, ground, anything that would keep us on Chinese soil, but we were no match for the determined soldiers," the pair wrote in a note that was posted on the website of their employers following their release.

"They violently dragged us back across the ice to North Korea and marched us to a nearby army base, where we were detained."

The pair said they swallowed their notes and damaged their tapes while in detention in an effort to protect their sources. They were charged with trespassing and “hostile acts” against North Korea, but were released after former US President Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang to meet with then leader, Kim Jong-il.