Kim Kuk-gi and Choe Chun-gil, a former missionary and a businessman, were accused by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) of spying for South Korea and for the CIA.
The two men appeared on CNN in March after their arrests, apparently confessing to charges of terrorism and bringing in large quantities of forged currency. Two other South Koreans remain in detention.
Seoul’s Unification Ministry, which announced the sentence, denied the two men were involved in espionage, and urged Pyongyang to release them immediately.
South Korea’s Yonap news agency suggested the harsh sentences are in retaliation for the opening of the office for the UN high commissioner for human rights in Seoul today. Opening the office, United Nations High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said:
“Less than 50 miles from here lies anouther world marked by the utmost repression and deprivation. Tens of thousands of Korean people have escaped that reality, and through hazardous means, reached a new life in the Republic of Korea.
“But millions remain trapped in a totalitarian system that not only denies that freedom, but increasingly their basic survival needs.”
The office will monitor abuses within the DPRK. The two Koreas remain technically at war since the end of the 1950-1953 Korean war.