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American begins 15 years of hard labor in North Korean 'special prison'

Yonhap via Reuters

Kenneth Bae, 44, was convicted of "hostile acts" against North Korea.

An American tour operator sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea has begun his sentence at a “special prison,” state media reported Wednesday.

Kenneth Bae, 44, stood trial last month accused of “hostile acts” against the repressive regime.

Bae, who is from Washington state, was convicted of an attempt to topple the government through “state subversion” according to a brief report on the Korean Central News Agency's website.

“Pae Jun Ho, an American citizen, started his life at a special prison on Tuesday,” the report said, referring to him by his Korean name.

He is one of at least three other U.S. citizens who are also devout Christians to have been detained by North Korea in recent years.

While North Korea's constitution guarantees freedom of religion, in practice only sanctioned services are tolerated.

Washington state Rep. Cindy Ryu told The Herald newspaper in December that Bae might have been doing missionary work in North Korea.

"Many of us are third- and fourth-generation Christians and many of our pastors are originally from North Korea," Ryu said. "We want to visit our home country, but in North Korea you cannot say you are a missionary."

Facebook page has been set up titled “Remember Ken Bae, Detained in North Korea.”

The Supreme Court of North Korea sentenced American Kenneth Bae to 15 years of hard labor for "crimes against the country." Bae arrived with a tourist group on Nov. 3 and has been held ever since.

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