Who Is Kenneth Bae, the Longest-Held U.S. Prisoner in North Korea?
WASHINGTON -- For those who held onto slim hope that former NBA player Dennis Rodman might help secure the release of an American held in a North Korea prison camp, Rodman's outburst of regime propaganda today demonstrated he knows or cares little about Kenneth Bae.
“Are you going to take an opportunity, if you get it, to speak up for the family of Kenneth Bae and say, 'Let us know why this man is being held?’ If you can help them, will you take the opportunity?” CNN's Chris Cuomo asked.
“The one thing about politics, Kenneth Bae did one thing. If you understand — if you understand what Kenneth Bae did,” Rodman shot back. “Do you understand what he did? In this country?”
As it was quickly revealed, Rodman had no idea what Bae is purported to have done -- other than offend his dear compatriot Kim Jong-un.
Bae, 44, was born in South Korea and graduated from high school in Torrance, Calif. "To those who know Kenneth Bae, he is the larger-than-life kind of guy who loved to rock the Miami Vice look, the white blazer with the sleeves pushed up and gelled hairstyle, back in the ‘80s. He is the guy who is always surrounded by friends, hosting homemade meals and regaling everyone with hilarious tales and his renditions of Elvis Presley tunes," his family states on a website appealing for his release.
"Kenneth is the guy who always does the right thing, no matter the cost. He is the guy who dropped out of college at the age of 22 to support his own young family. He is the guy who would come home late from working two jobs and just spend hours watching his baby son sleep. He is the guy who follows his personal convictions, even to the ends of the world."
A devout Christian, Bae thought he could help suffering North Koreans in part by leading a tour company in the special economic zones that would help reveal the people's plight. On Nov. 3, 2012, he was stopped in Rajin-Sonbong while leading a tour group, a routine visit his family says he'd done more than 15 times before.
His crime? Bae had a computer disk with photos of starving North Korean orphans and other "propaganda" like a National Geographic documentary on the DPRK. For this he was accused of trying to stage a religious coup against the communist government, conducting a smear campaign against the regime, and encouraging North Koreans to topple the Kim dynasty.
In short: "Hostile acts against the republic."
“When last in America and South Korea, Kenneth Bae went to several churches and preached about the need for North Korea’s immediate collapse,” a government spokesman said, claiming Bae was creating an "anti-government coalition" with other missionaries.
After a secret "trial" in April, Bae was sentenced to 15 years' hard labor.
Since then, the American's health has deteriorated. He's losing his vision because he can't get proper care for his diabetes, has gallstones, and the labor camp is also taking a toll on his heart.
"We need people to take action and rally support for this fellow American in need. We need our government to swiftly secure amnesty for Kenneth. We need to bring Kenneth home," his family says.
Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), Bae's home-state representative, said Rodman's comments were insensitive.
“Dennis Rodman should stick to basketball and not cast aspersions on a fellow American who is being held by a foreign nation,” Larsen said. “Kenneth Bae and his family have gone through more than enough without having to listen to these hurtful statements from somebody who clearly does not know what he is talking about."
“I join the White House in renewing our call for North Korea to grant a pardon and special amnesty for Kenneth and to immediately release him so he can come home to his family," he added. "I pledge my continuing support to Kenneth’s family and will continue working with them and the State Department to ensure his safe return home.”