WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of State has announced that North Korean officials have rescinded their invitation to meet with a special American envoy that sought to secure the release of a missionary that has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in the country.
The government had initially 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 was to travel to Pyongyang on Friday in an effort to free Kenneth Bae, a businessman and missionary from Washington state.
As previously reported, Bae, who operates a 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.
As the U.S. has expressed concern about Bae’s condition, it has called upon North Korean officials on several occasions to free the businessman and missionary. While the Department of State was hopeful earlier this week in light of Ambassador Robert King’s scheduled visit to the nation, the last-minute news that the invitation had been rescinded dealt a blow to American efforts.
“The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has informed the United States that it has rescinded its invitation for Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues Ambassador Robert King to travel to Pyongyang August 30-31 on a humanitarian mission focused on securing the release of U.S. citizen Kenneth Bae,” the Department announced on Friday. “We are surprised and disappointed by North Korea’s decision.”
“We have sought clarification from the DPRK about its decision and have made every effort so that Ambassador King’s trip could continue as planned or take place at a later date,” it continued. “We remain gravely concerned about Mr. Bae’s health and we continue to urge the DPRK authorities to grant Mr. Bae special amnesty and immediate release on humanitarian grounds.”