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.

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