Tuesday, January 28, 2014

North Korea: Update--US Diplomat Urges Pardoning of Imprisoned US Citizen Kenneth Bae

According to The Associated Press, US Special Representative for North Korea Policy Glyn Davies' has called for Pyongyang to release US-naturalized citizen Kenneth Bae, 44, originally from South Korea.

At a news conference earlier this month, Mr. Bae said his plight is worsening due to poor health.
"We hope that they're willing to release Kenneth Bae," Davies told reporters following talks with Chinese officials in Beijing. "His family is understandably very worried about his fate and would like him to be returned to them."
Bae was arrested in November 2012, while voluntarily leading a tour group in North Korea and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for unspecified subversive activity, which is always expected from Pyongyang. 

COMMENT: Bae was relocated to a prison hospital last summer in poor health, but said at his news conference that he was being transferred back to his prison cell.
Davies said the US government had made direct appeals to North Korean representatives on Bae's behalf to no avail. Although North Korea has released detained Americans before following appeals, it has shown no indication that it is willing to do so in Bae's case.

Having spent the better part of my career as a US Department of State special agent and Senior Regional Security Officer (SRSO), often helping US citizens extricate themselves from bad choices they have made because of inexperience or naiveté, it must be emphasized that Mr. Bae voluntarily took tour groups to North Korea, knowing that the government there would potentially accuse him of trumped-up charges, particularly if he was engaged in missionary activities.

Kenneth Bae is a naturalized US citizen, having moved to California in 1986 where he later attended the University of Oregon, but dropped out after two years. 

In April 2013, Bae was sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment in North Korea.

Despite being a naturalized US citizen, Bae reportedly lived in China with his wife and stepdaughter for seven years. Subsequently, he created a tourism company called "Nations Tour" that were allegedly billed as missionary trips, although it is unknown with which denomination he was affiliated. 

Working with an evangelical organization known as Youth With a Mission (YWAM) Bae was reportedly accused of preaching against the North Korean government in both in American and South Korean churches.

On December 21, 2012, North Korea announced that it had charged an American identified as Bae Jun-ho with "hostile acts against the republic.

During January 7-10, 2013, former UN ambassador Bill Richardson was unable to meet Bae and delivered a letter from Bae's son to North Korean authorities.

On April 30, 2013, North Korea's Supreme Court sentenced Bae to 15 years of hard labor. On May 14, 2013, he was moved to a "special prison," where he would perform farm labor, an activity that he had never performed in the past.

On July 3, 2013, an interview with Bae was released, in which he spoke of health problems including diabetes, high blood pressure, a fatty liver and back problems.

A Swedish ambassador met with Bae in a hospital in August 2013; Bae's sister reported that he was moved from the camp because of deteriorating health and after losing more than 50 pounds (23 kg). Bae's mother, Myunghee Bae, arrived in North Korea on October 11, 2013 to visit her son for five days. She was allowed three visits, totaling six hours.

On July 3, 2013, an interview with Bae was released, in which he begged for forgiveness from his captors and for United States' help. It was confirmed later in July that former President Jimmy Carter had no plans to visit North Korea and release Bae.

Although family members of Kenneth Bae are scheduled to visit with US Secretary of State John Kerry next week, it appears that US efforts to secure Bae's release have been exhausted.

I continue to strongly discourage US veterans of the Korean Conflict (1950-53) and ethnic South Koreans, particularly those that are now US citizens, in visiting North Korea under any circumstances.