Friends of Bae have speculated that he may have taken pictures of starving North Korean children or even of executions – neither of which would please North Korean authorities. Bae reportedly was living in the Chinese city of Dalian and frequently crossed the border to take food to orphans, according to friends. But the scant information released by the North Korean government left unclear exactly what Bae had done.
“Kenneth Bae had no access to a lawyer. It is not even known what he was charged with,” Amnesty International said in a statement Thursday.
The State Department, meanwhile, called for Bae's "immediate release." In a statement, spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the US had "longstanding concerns" about the lack of transparency and due process in the North's judicial system. But he added that "now that [Bae] has gone through a legal process we urge the DPRK [the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea] to grant him amnesty and immediate release."
Bae’s sentencing prompted speculation that Mr. Kim, the North’s young new ruler, could be angling for a news-grabbing visit from an American dignitary to try to win clemency. Bae is at least the sixth American to be found guilty of some unspecified crime against the North Korean state. Earlier cases have led to visits from two former presidents – Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton – and from Bill Richardson, the former US ambassador to the UN.