As previously reported, Kenneth Bae, who operates a Washington-based tourist company, was arrested not far from the city of Yanji last November, where some Christian groups provide aid to North Korean refugees. It is stated that Bae has made a number of trips to North Korea to assist orphaned children.
While the exact reason for his charges of committing “hostile [and religious] acts to bring down the government” 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.
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.
A video released by CNN last month shows Bae allegedly admitting to violating North Korean law, but some are skeptical about the admission.
“There were preliminaries for three months. I wrote a statement that I violated the law upon entry to Rajin city. During the preliminaries, I admitted to this fact so I didn’t feel the need to choose a lawyer to defend my case at the trial,” he stated in the video. “I know that what I did cannot be forgiven, but my wish is for this to be solved as soon as possible and meet my family.”
According to reports, Bae has been working eight-hour days in the fields, weeding and planting beans and potatoes. He has lost over 50 pounds since he began serving his sentence.
Earlier this month, Bae’s sister, Terri Chung of Seattle, told tv station KING5 that she is in receipt of letters that indicate that her brother Kenneth Bae is going blind, possibly due to complications with diabetes. He also struggles with liver problems and an enlarged heart.
“He is asking us directly and saying, ‘My health is failing, I need help,’” she explained. “There is a new note of desperation.”
Now, Chung states that she was informed by the U.S. State Department that Bae has been hospitalized due to his failing health, and that the Swedish ambassador to North Korea visited her brother in the hospital late last week. Sweeden handles American interests in the country as the United States does not have an embassy in North Korea.
“He’s considerably weaker,” she told reporters. “There’s more urgency than ever to bring him home.”
While the U.S. government has repeatedly called for Bae’s release, it repeated its concerns on Monday during a press briefing.
“It’s clear that Mr. Bae’s health is deteriorating,” State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf remarked. “We’ve been concerned about his health for a long time, and it is of deep concern to us today.”
“We continue to urge the DPRK authorities to grant Mr. Bae amnesty and immediate release,” she said.
Bae’s son has also petitioned Secretary of State John Kerry to help free his father.