The U.S. State Department and others are calling upon North Korean officials to release a Christian American that was recently sentenced to 15 years hard labor after being accused of attempting to overthrow the government.
As previously reported, Kenneth Bae, who operates a Washington-based tourist company, was arrested not far from the city of Yanji in 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 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.
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.
While the U.S. State Department previously deferred to the Swedish embassy for intervention as America has no representation in North Korea, it is now calling for Bae’s release following his sentencing.
“[W]e’ve had long-standing concerns about the lack of transparency and due process in the North Korean legal system,” U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters. “So, now that Mr. Bae has gone through the legal process, we urge the DPRK to grant him amnesty and immediate release.”
Former NBA star Dennis Rodman, who recently visited North Korea and spent time with leader Kim Jong-Un, also posted a Tweet this week requesting that Bae be freed.
“I’m calling on the Supreme Leader of North Korea, or as I call him ‘Kim’, to do me a solid and cut Kenneth Bae loose,” Rodman wrote.
His post is stated to be a response to a Seattle Times editorial that called upon him to reach out to Un on behalf of Bae. Rodman is expected to return to the country in August to spend time with the North Korean leader.
Bae 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: Kok Leng Yeo