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.
As previously reported, 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.”
Chung, Bae’ s sister, said that seeing Bae in the footage impacted the family greatly.
“My mother drew in a sharp breath and broke into heaving sobs, gasping for breath, at the sight of her son so diminished,” she wrote in a Seattle Times op-ed entitled Free My Brother Kenneth Bae from North Korea. “We could see the heavy toll his long imprisonment, since November, had taken.”
She also told KING5 tv that letters sent to the family outline that matters are only getting worse.
“He is asking us directly and saying, ‘My health is failing, I need help,'” she explained. “There is a new note of desperation.”
Bae’s son Jonathan also recently created a petition to the U.S. State Department, asking Secretary John Kerry to work for his release.
“We have been distraught by my father’s deteriorating health and his sentence of hard labor. However, we have not given up hope because we have faith in our government to represent and protect American citizens here and abroad,” he wrote. “Please sign my petition asking the Obama administration to pursue every course of possible action, without delay, to secure special amnesty for my father and allow him to come home to his family and friends.”
“Time is running out as Kenneth’s health rapidly deteriorates,” Chung also stated. “The North Korean government seems open to communication. My family and I ask for your help in rallying support for this American in need and imploring our government to take urgent and direct action to bring Kenneth home.”