The Slatest

North Korea Sentences 24-Year-Old American to Six Years of Hard Labor

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.


North Korea’s Supreme Court sentenced U.S. citizen Matthew Todd Miller to six years of hard labor after a 90-minute trial, claiming he had traveled to the country to conduct espionage. Miller now becomes the second American currently serving time in North Korea. Another American, Jeffrey Fowle, is awaiting trial.

The sentence is clear—and there’s no chance of appeal—but pretty much everything else related to this case remains murky. In the trial, the court accused Miller, of Bakersfield, California, of tearing up his tourist visa when he arrived in Pyongyang. The court said the 24-year-old wanted to see what a North Korean prison was like so that he could investigate the country’s human rights situation, according to the Associated Press, which was allowed to attend the trial.

Miller “looked thin and pale at the trial” and “waived the right to a lawyer,” reports the AP. During the proceedings, the court dismissed earlier speculation that Miller had sought asylum in North Korea, and said he had also falsely claimed to have U.S. military secrets. Miller told CNN earlier this month that he went to Pyongyang “prepared to violate the law of DPRK before coming here. And I deliberately committed my crime.” But he did not elaborate on what that crime might be. Miller traveled to North Korea as a tourist, part of a growing wave of Western visitors to the country.

U.S. officials believe North Korea is using the American detainees to get a high-level Washington official to travel to Pyongyang, notes Reuters. “This is the way that they play,” a State Department official said. “They use human beings, and in this case Americans citizens, as pawns.” Although that strategy may have worked in the past, analysts say Washington has too much going on elsewhere in the world to devote much attention to North Korea. Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae is serving 15 years in a labor camp while Jeffrey Fowle was arrested in May for leaving a bible in a public place. There is no date for his trial.