Kim Dong-Chul, center, a U.S. citizen detained in North Korea, is escorted to his trial Friday in Pyongyang, North Korea
Seoul, April 29, 2016:Â North Korea sentenced a second U.S. citizen, Korean-American businessman Kim Dong-chul, to 10 years of hard labor on charges of spying and stealing state secrets, upping the ante with the U.S. ahead of a rare ruling party congress.
The sentencing of Mr. Kim comes six weeks after authorities ordered Otto Warmbier, a 21-year-old University of Virginia undergraduate, to serve 15 years of hard labor after allegedly trying to steal a propaganda poster from his Pyongyang hotel during a tour.
The sentences are likely to increase tension between Washington and Pyongyang ahead of a closely watched ruling party congress that begins next Friday in North Koreaâ€”the first such meeting in 36 years.
The U.S. and its allies in the region have been watching North Korea closely for signs of a potential nuclear test or missile launch to burnish leader Kim Jong Unâ€™s credentials ahead of the event.Â On Thursday, South Koreaâ€™s government said that Pyongyang twice tried, and failed, to launch a new ballistic missile.
The sentencing of Mr. Kim, 62 years old, came after a trial on Friday in North Koreaâ€™s Supreme Court, during which prosecutors sought a 15-year hard labor sentence, according to Pyongyangâ€™s official Korea Central News Agency.
Mr. Kimâ€™s lawyer pleaded for leniency, citing his age and saying that he might â€œrepent of his faults,â€ the report said.
Last month, North Korean state media accused the Virginia resident of obtaining classified documents about North Koreaâ€™s nuclear and military plans, at the behest of U.S. and South Korean intelligence.
In a purported interview with KCNA published in March, Mr. Kim admitted to trying to â€œâ€˜removeâ€™ the supreme leadership of the DPRK and â€˜bring down its social system,â€™â€ using the acronym for North Koreaâ€™s formal name, the Democratic Peopleâ€™s Republic of Korea.
The KCNA account also accuses Mr. Kim, who allegedly went by the code name â€œNortheastern Tiger,â€ of having tried to track down Lim Hyeon-soo, a Korean-Canadian pastor who last December was handed a life sentence of hard labor for committing â€œanti-DPRK religious activities.â€
The U.S. State Department hasnâ€™t confirmed Mr. Kimâ€™s case, citing privacy concerns, but Mr. Kim presented what appeared to be his U.S. passport during a CNN interview arranged by North Korea in January.
According to North Koreaâ€™s official media, Mr. Kim was born in Seoul before immigrating to the U.S. in the early 1970s. Mr. Kim moved to the border region between China and North Korea in 2005 to set up a trade company, KCNA reported, adding that he has been detained since October.