Kenneth Bae gets consular visit at North Korea labor camp

The State Department says the Swedish Embassy in North Korea has visited detained American missionary Kenneth Bae at a labor camp.

Spokeswoman Marie Harf said Wednesday this week’s visit was the 12th by Swedish representatives since Kenneth Bae was arrested in November 2012. As a result of his missionary and humanitarian work, he is serving 15 years of hard labor for alleged “hostile acts against North Korea”.

Sweden handles consular cases for the U.S. because Washington does not have diplomatic relations with Pyongyang. He’s one of three Americans now held.

Harf gave no update on Bae’s condition but said the department spoke to Bae’s family after Monday’s visit. His family says he has diabetes, heart and liver problems.

Bae recently told a pro-North Korean newspaper his health was worsening and he felt abandoned by the U.S. government.

[Bellingham Herald]

Imprisoned Kenneth Bae feels abandoned by US

Kenneth Bae, an American citizen detained in North Korea, said he feels like the U.S. government has abandoned him, according to an interview he did with a pro-North Korea, Japan-based newspaper, Choson Sinbo.

Bae said that he heard the U.S. government is doing everything it can to have him released and thanked the American and North Korean government for allowing him to speak to his family over the phone and medical treatment.

He’s been in North Korea for two years and there is no sign of this issue being solved, according to the paper.

Bae said he is suffering from several health problems and is worried that his condition will worsen when he returns to a special labor camp soon. Bae was re-admitted to a hospital in Pyongyang in March. “He expressed anxiety that if he is to go back to the labor camp, such symptoms may become worse and said he is stressed that he is unable to pay fees for the hospital treatments,” the newspaper reported.

Bae, of Lynwood, Washington, was arrested in November 2012. Pyongyang sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor, accusing him of planning to bring down the government through religious activities. He is widely reported to have been carrying out Christian missionary work in North Korea.

Bae is one of three Americans currently held in North Korea. Matthew Miller Todd was taken into custody on April 10 and Jeffrey Fowle, from Ohio, was detained in June for breaking a law, according to North Korea’s state news agency.

[CNN]

US Congressmen appeal to Kim Jong-Un for Kenneth Bae release

The last surviving members of the U.S. Congress to have served in the Korean War have sent a letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un asking him to release imprisoned American missionary Kenneth Bae.

“You have done the right thing by releasing a fellow Korean War veteran, Merrill E. Newman, to return home, you would be making further progress on the humanitarian front by freeing Kenneth Bae to reunite with his family,” stated a copy of the letter obtained by Reuters.

The congressmen, Democrat Charles Rangel from New York, Democrat John Conyers Jr. from Michigan, Republican Sam Johnson from Texas and Republican Howard Coble from North Carolina, are members of the House of Representatives.

kenneth bae North Korea January 2014

Kenneth Bae January 2014

Bae, 45, has been held for more than a year after being sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. North Korean authorities said the Christian missionary was trying to overthrow the state. Rangel invited Bae’s family to sit with him at President Barack Obama’s state of the union speech last month.

The letter was dated Tuesday and came as North and South Korea agreed to allow some families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War to hold brief reunions, despite a campaign by Pyongyang demanding that Seoul cancel planned war games with the United States.

In their letter, the four members of Congress urged Kim Jong-un to extend the reunion effort to Korean-Americans. “Nothing is more tragic than the separation of families and loved ones,” the letter stated. “We encourage you to also create a pathway to allow some 100,000 Korean-Americans to meet with their divided families in the (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) before too many pass away.”

[Reuters]

North Korea press conference called by American missionary Kenneth Bae

American missionary Kenneth Bae, who has been jailed in North Korea for more than a year, appeared before reporters Monday and appealed to the U.S. government to do its best to secure his release.

Wearing a gray cap and inmate’s uniform with the number 103 on his chest, Bae spoke in Korean during the brief appearance, which was attended by The Associated Press and a few other foreign media in Pyongyang. He made an apology and said he had committed anti-government acts.

Bae called the press conference held at his own request. He was under guard during the appearance. It is not unusual for prisoners in North Korea to say after their release that they spoke in similar situations under duress.

Bae, the longest-serving American detainee in North Korea in recent years, expressed hope that the U.S. government will do its best to win his release. He said he had not been treated badly in confinement. “I believe that my problem can be solved by close cooperation and agreement between the American government and the government of this country,” he said.

Bae was arrested in November 2012 while leading a tour group and accused of crimes against the state before being sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. He was moved to a hospital last summer in poor health.

Bae said a comment last month by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden had made his situation more difficult. “The vice president of United States said that I was detained here without any reason,” Bae said. “And even my younger sister recently told the press that I had not committed any crime and I know that the media reported it.

“I think these comments infuriated the people here enormously. And for this reason, I am in a difficult situation now. As a result, although I was in medical treatment in the hospital for five months until now, it seems I should return to prison. And moreover there is greater difficulty in discussions about my amnesty.”

North Korea freed an elderly American veteran of the Korean War, 85-year-old Merrill Newman, who had been held for weeks for alleged crimes during the 1950-53 conflict. North Korean state media said he was released because he apologized for his wrongdoing and that authorities also considered his age and medical condition.

“We shouldn’t take Kenneth Bae’s comments merely as his own,” said Kim Jin Moo, a North Korea expert at the South Korean state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul. “The reason why North Korea had Kenneth Bae make this statement … is that they want Washington to reach out to them.”

[AP]

Mother of Kenneth Bae departs North Korea without him

The mother of Kenneth Bae has left North Korea “more anxious than ever” to bring her imprisoned and ailing son home.

In a statement she released Tuesday, Myunghee Bae said she was able to visit her son three times and was relieved to see his health was improving.

Earlier this year, Bae, a Korean-American, was sentenced to 15 years in a North Korean labor camp for what the government called “hostile acts.” His family had not been able to see him for almost a year since his November 3 arrest in North Korea.

The North Korean government accuses Bae of setting up bases in China for the purpose of “toppling” the North Korean government, encouraging North Korean citizens to bring down the government and conducting a “malignant smear campaign.”

The country’s state media also says that Bae had planned what it called a “Jericho operation” to bring down North Korea through religious activities. They have suggested that Bae could have been sentenced to death, but avoided it through “candid confession of his crimes.”

Myunghee Bae, of Lynwood, Washington, said that she pleaded with the North Korean authorities to let her visit her son, and expressed gratitude for granting permission.

“I plead with our government to do everything in their power to secure my son’s release soon,” Myunghee Bae said Tuesday.

 

US citizen sentenced in North Korea to 15 years of compulsory labor for “hostile acts”

A U.S. citizen, Kenneth Bae, was sentenced 15 years of compulsory labor by the Supreme Court of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) on Tuesday, the official KCNA news agency said Thursday.

State media refers to Bae as Pae Jun Ho, the North Korean spelling of his Korean name. The defendant was arrested while “committing hostile acts against the DPRK” after entering Rason City as a tourist on Nov. 3 last year, it said.

During the preliminary inquiry into his crimes, Pae “admitted that he committed crimes aimed to topple the DPRK with hostility toward it.” His crimes were “proved by evidence,” the KCNA added.

Last January’s visit to North Korea by former U.S., New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and GoogleExecutive Chairman Eric Schmidt was reportedly linked to the release of Pae.

Pae Jun Ho (Kenneth Bae) has been detained for nearly six months in North Korea. Friends and colleagues say Bae, a Korean American who was living in Washington state and described by friends as a devout Christian and a tour operator, was based in the Chinese border city of Dalian and traveled frequently to North Korea to feed orphans.

Other Americans detained in recent years were also devout Christians. While North Korea’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion, in practice only sanctioned services are tolerated by the government.

The sentencing of Kenneth Bae comes amid signs of tentative diplomacy following weeks of rising tensions in the region. Analysts say Pyongyang could use Bae as a bargaining chip as it seeks dialogue with Washington.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department had no immediate comment.

It’s not the first time an American has been arrested and sentenced to labor during a nuclear standoff. In 2009, after Pyongyang’s launch of an earlier long-range rocket and its second underground nuclear test, two American journalists were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor after sneaking across the border from China.

They later were pardoned on humanitarian grounds and released to former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who flew to Pyongyang on a rescue mission. He also met with then-leader Kim Jong Il, which paved the way for talks.

Google executive and Governor Bill Richardson to visit North Korea

Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, will be traveling to North Korea on a private, humanitarian mission led by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson that could take place as early as this month, sources told The Associated Press.

The trip would be the first by a top executive from U.S.-based Google, the world’s largest Internet search provider, to a country considered to have the most restrictive Internet policies on the planet. To add to the mystery, last year a group of North Koreans paid a visit to Google headquarters in Mountain View, California.

North Korea is in the midst of what leader Kim Jong Un called a modern-day “industrial revolution” in a New Year’s Day speech to the nation. Kim Jong Un is pushing science and technology as a path to economic development for the impoverished country, aiming for computers in every school and digitized machinery in every factory.

However, giving citizens open access to the Internet has not been part of the regime’s strategy. While some North Koreans can access a domestic Intranet service, very few have clearance to freely surf the World Wide Web.

It was not immediately clear who Schmidt and Richardson expect to meet in North Korea.

The visit also follows North Korea’s announcement that an American citizen of Korean descent has been jailed in Pyongyang on suspicion of committing “hostile” acts against the state. Kenneth Bae, identified in North Korean state media by his Korean name, Pae Jun Ho, is the fifth American detained in North Korea in the past four years. The exact circumstances of his arrest were not clear.

Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who often serves as an envoy to countries that do not have diplomatic relations with the United States, will try to meet with North Korean officials, and possibly Bae, to discuss the case, the sources said.