[JURIST] A North Korean court sentenced a US citizen to eight years in prison on Wednesday for illegally entering the country. Aijalon Mahli Gomes was arrested in January for illegally crossing the border and was charged with illegal entry and unspecified hostile acts [Korea Times report]. Gomes's sentence includes eight years of hard labor and a fine equivalent to USD $700,000. The imprisonment of an American citizen is seen as a significant bargaining chip for North Korea, as the resumption of multilateral negotiations [ABC News report] involving the US over the status of North Korea's nuclear program [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] increases in likelihood. Gomes is the fourth American to be detained for illegal entry into North Korea in the past 13 months, but none of those past detentions continued for longer than five months.
North Korea's detention and treatment of prisoners has been the subject of criticism [JURIST news archive] from numerous world governments and activist groups. In February, US rights activist Robert Park was released [Guardian report] after a two-month detention for illegally entering North Korea [JURIST report] in December. In August, North Korea pardoned [JURIST report] two American journalists for their illegal entry, after negotiations with former US president Bill Clinton. The journalists had been detained in March [JURIST report] for allegedly crossing the North Korean border with China.