WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of State has announced that it will be sending a special envoy to North Korea this weekend in an attempt to secure the release of an American missionary that has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in the country.
The government announced the visit on Tuesday, outlining that the trip was at the invitation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues Ambassador Robert King will travel to Pyongyang on Saturday in an effort to free Kenneth Bae, a businessman and missionary from Washington state.
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, and was recently hospitalized due to failing health. Bae struggles with diabetes and a number of other physical ailments.
CNN reports that American officials had offered weeks ago to send a special envoy to the country in order to discuss Bae’s release, but the country only recently agreed to the meeting and issued an invitation.
“As the U.S. Government has on a number of occasions since the April 30 verdict, Ambassador King will request the D.P.R.K. pardon Mr. Bae and grant him special amnesty on humanitarian grounds so that he can be reunited with his family and seek medical treatment,” the Department of State wrote in its press release on Tuesday.
Bae’s son has been petitioning Secretary of State John Kerry to help free his father.