An American Christian that has been detained in North Korea for nearly six months has been sentenced to 15 years hard labor, reports state.
Kenneth Bae was born in South Korea, but now lives in Washington as an American citizen, and manages a tourist company that takes trips to North Korea. He was taken into custody on a tour in November, and has been accused of attempting to overthrow the government.
“It’s not uncommon for North Korea to get really upset with the U.S.,” Patricia Gwartney with Statistics Without Borders told The Daily Emerald. “Every spring, the U.S. and South Korea do joint military exercises right off the coast of North Korea for six weeks, and it alarms them.”
Bae was arrested not far from the city of Yanji, where some Christian groups provide aid to North Korean refugees. Reports note that he might have affiliation with the Ohio-based ministry The Joseph Connection.
While the exact reason for the charge has not been made known, some organizations speculate that Bae may be in trouble for taking pictures that the government found threatening.
“The most plausible scenario I can think of is that he took some pictures of the orphans, and the North Korean authorities considered that an act of anti-North Korean propaganda,” said Do Hee-youn of the Citizens’ Coalition for the Human Rights of North Korean Refugees.
Bae’s friends state that he traveled to North Korea at times to help orphans in the country.
Others opine that perhaps he took photographs of prisoners being executed or other similar human rights concerns. One report claims that Bae was found with a disc that had potentially sensitive information.
The U.S. State Department has been aware that Bae is being held in the country.
“We obviously have no higher priority than the welfare of our citizens,” stated spokesperson Victoria Nuland. “As you may know we have no representation in Pyongyang. The Embassy of Sweden acts as our protecting power for issues involving U.S. citizens in North Korea.”
Representatives from the Swedish embassy visited Bae approximately two weeks ago. He is the sixth American to be detained in North Korea since 2009, three of which were Christians. All of them were successfully released.
As previously reported, North Korea has been at the top of Open Doors’ “World Watch List” for some time, and remains the most dangerous place to live in the world as a Christian. Also included in the top ten are Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Maldives, Mali, Iran and Yemen.
“Nothing much has changed under new North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un,” said spokeman Jerry Dykstra. “In fact, persecution of Christians has increased. Reportedly, one labor camp alone could hold up to 6,000 Christians.”
Bae is likely to be placed in a separate facility for foreigners, and may be used as a “bargaining chip” against the United States.
Photo: David Eerdmans