State Department 'strongly urges' Americans to avoid North Korea

State Department 'strongly urges' Americans to avoid North Korea
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The State Department is urging American citizens not to go to North Korea in an updated travel warning issued Monday.

“The State Department strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to North Korea due to the serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea’s system of law enforcement, which imposes unduly harsh sentences, including for actions that in the United States would not be considered crimes,” the warning reads.

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It replaces a previous warning in November that “strongly recommended” against travel to North Korea.

The warning comes after two American citizens were recently sentenced to hard labor in the country. Last month, North Korea's Supreme Court sentenced Korean-American Kim Dong Chul to 10 years after he admitted to stealing military secrets, according to North Korean state media.

That followed the March sentencing of American student Otto Warmbier, who got 15 years for trying to steal a banner with a propaganda slogan, according to state media.

At least 14 U.S. citizens have been detained in North Korea in the last decade, according to the State Department. Those who travel independently or with a tour group are equally at risk, the warning says.

The warning lists 12 acts that have been considered crimes in North Korea, including taking unauthorized photographs, shopping at stores not designated for foreigners and having unauthorized interaction with the local population.

Other crimes include disrespecting former leaders, possessing media that’s critical of the government, bringing pornography into the country, carrying out religious activities, engaging in unsanctioned political activities, traveling without authorization, exchanging currency with an unauthorized vendor, not having proper travel documentation and tampering with political material, State says.

Those who choose to travel to North Korea anyway, the warning adds, should have no expectation of privacy.

“All electronic and multimedia devices including USB drives, CDs, DVDs, mobile phones, tablets, laptops, Internet browsing histories and cookies are subject to search for banned content,” the warning says. “If DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] authorities permit you to keep your mobile phone when you enter the country, it will not function unless you use the DPRK mobile service, which will enable DPRK authorities to monitor your calls.”

The updated warning also comes amid heightened tension on the Korean peninsula following North Korea’s fourth nuclear test in January and a slew of ballistic missile launches in the past few months.