North Korea Sentences South Korean Missionary, Kim Jung-wook, to Life in Prison

North Korean media has reported that South Korean Baptist missionary Kim Jung-wook has been sentenced to hard labor for life on charges of spying and trying to set up underground churches.

The trial took place Friday when the missionary admitted to committing anti-North Korean religious acts and "malignantly hurting the dignity" of the country's supreme leadership, or the ruling Kim family, The Associated Press reported quoting state media.

A North Korean dispatch written Friday, but released early Saturday, said Jung-wook, who is about 50 years old, had defense counsel, but other details were not provided.

An unidentified North Korean defense attorney said the missionary "sincerely repented of his crimes and apologized for them" and urged that the court commute the death sentence demanded by prosecutors, who produced "evidence such as religious books, memory cards, sex CDs and spying devices carried by the accused for criminal purposes."

Kim was arrested last October after he entered North Korea from China. A North Korean television program featured him in February alleging he received assistance from South Korea's intelligence agency and that he had apologized for committing "anti-state" crimes.

South Korea has denied any spy links to Kim.

In Dandong, China, where Jung-wook was based for some years since 2007, the missionary helped North Korean defectors flee to South Korea through other countries including Thailand and Laos, according to a friend. However, Chinese authorities caught 12 North Korean women in August 2012 from his shelter and sent them back to North Korea. Jung-wook crossed into North Korea to find out about the women and to learn about a food shortage there, but got caught by authorities.

North Korea has released some foreign prisoners in the past.

A 75-year-old Australian missionary, John Short, was released earlier this year after being arrested for his alleged Christian work.

Last December, North Korea released 85-year-old U.S. veteran Merrill Newman after holding him for more than a week for allegedly making plots against Pyongyang.

However, Kenneth Bae, an imprisoned American Christian sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government, remains in a labor camp.

Bae's sister, Terri Chung, earlier told Reuters that her brother suffered from a variety of health issues, including diabetes, an enlarged heart, kidney stones and severe back pain. "We are very concerned about his health."

Bae, who was arrested in the city of Rajin on Nov. 3, 2012, continues to be the longest-serving American detainee in North Korea since the end of the war in 1953.

North Korea has been a brutal dictatorship, ruled by one party, the Korea Worker's Party, and led by one family, the Kims, since its formation in 1948. There are at least 100,000 Christians in that nation's harsh prison camps, where prisoners face torture, forced labor and possible execution, Christian groups say.

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