Kenneth Bae humanitarian missionary to North Korea

Kenneth Bae, a 44-year-old American citizen, was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in a North Korean gulag this week for “hostile acts” against the country and Kim Jong-Un’s regime. Considering the DPRK’s penchant for hyperbole and habit of punishing Americans, the truth about Bae’s situation remains murky. Here’s what we know so far:

1. Bae Dropped Out of the University of Oregon to Support His Family. 

2. Bae Owned a China-Based Tour Company That Specialized in North Korean Tours. His website read, in part: “We found ourselves falling in love with the friendly people…and fascinating culture… After realizing this love was something that needed to be shared with as many people possible, we developed Nation Tours so that others could fall in love with North Korea, too.”

One of the reasons Korean-Americans go to the country, despite warnings from the State Department, is to help missionary/humanitarian/relief operations.

3. Bae Might Have Been Helping North Korean Children.

According to friends interviewed in Tomlinson’s piece in The Oregonian, Bae was a “devout Christian.” Bae had a reputation for helping children. “What we know is that he [Bae] is a person who wants to help poor children, kotjebis (homeless children), and he took pictures of them to support them later.

4. But Bae Can’t Get Arrested for Taking Pictures of Starving Children, Can He? According to the South Korean Kookmin Ilbo newspaper (via The New York Times), and unidentified source said that Bae was arrested after North Korean officials found a hard disk belonging to Bae which contained sensitive information about the Country. “Mr. Do said that Mr. Bae might have taken pictures of North Korean orphans he wanted to help and that the authorities might have seen that as an act of propaganda against the North,” reported the New York Times’s Choe Sang-Hun in December.

Read full Atlantic Wire article


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.