An American missionary sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea has been sent back to serve at a labor camp despite concerns that his health is worsening, reports state.
As previously reported, Kenneth Bae, who operates a tourist company in Washington state, was arrested not far from the city of Yanji in November 2012, 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.
“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 exact reason for his charges of committing “hostile [and religious] acts to bring down the government” has not been made known, Bae was sentenced to 15 years hard labor. He has appeared in several video statements since his sentencing, including earlier this year when he called upon the American government in a North Korean press conference to “make more active efforts and pay more attention” to his plight.
In a video released in February, Bae stated that he was concerned about his health after being sent back to a labor camp following his release from the hospital.
“I know if I continue for the next several months here, I will probably be sent back to the hospital again,” he said.
Bae stated that the long hours of physical labor affect his back and neck, and reports state that he also suffers from liver problems and an enlarged heart. His sister has also remarked that Bae’s eyesight may be failing due to complications from diabetes.
The missionary was re-hospitalized this year, but according to the U.S. State Department, he was transferred back to the labor camp at the end of July.
“We remain gravely concerned about Bae’s health, and we continue to urge [North Korean] authorities to grant Bae special amnesty and immediate release on humanitarian grounds,” the department told Voice of America’s Korean service last week.
It also outlined that it has asked North Korea to return Bae to the hospital as various groups seek his release. Representatives from the Swedish Embassy, which works on behalf of American interests in North Korea, is stated to have recently visited Bae at the labor camp—their 12th visit since his sentencing.
Bae’s son Jonathan has created a petition to the U.S. State Department, asking Secretary John Kerry to help free his father. It currently has over 163,000 signatures from supporters.
“We have been distraught by my father’s deteriorating health and his sentence of hard labor,” he wrote. “However, we have not given up hope because we have faith in our government to represent and protect American citizens here and abroad.”
As previously reported, in speaking publicly for the first time about the matter, Barack Obama promised during the National Prayer Breakfast in February that the U.S. would work toward the missionary’s release.
“Let us pray for Kenneth Bae,” Obama stated during the event. “His family wants him home, and the United States will continue to do everything in our power to secure his release.”