WASHINGTON – Kenneth Bae, the longest-held U.S. prisoner in North Korea since the Korean War, said the regime follows how it is being portrayed in Western media and treats foreign prisoners “somewhat humanely” to prevent being charged with further human rights violations.
While he was serving his sentence, Bae, an evangelical Christian missionary, also said he met North Koreans who had never heard of Jesus.
“They are often accused of human rights violations by international standards so they want to make sure that all the foreign prisoners coming in, that they will receive somewhat humane treatment so that when they leave they do not add on to the list of human rights violations. So they want to show the world that, ‘yes, even though they have done wrong, crime against our country, this is how humanely we treat them,’” Bae told PJM after an event with Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) about his memoir, Not Forgotten: The True Story of My Imprisonment in North Korea.
“So it was a little better environment for a prison cell — the food and the working environment. I assume this was a lot better than most of their own inmates from their own prison cells. According to the international standard of a prison life, it’s not quite there,” he added.
Bae explained that North Korean officials confiscated his hard drive when he entered the country. Bae did not have a chance to go through all of the content on the portable drive before traveling. It apparently contained video of the conditions on the ground in North Korea given to him by a friend and other content that led to North Korea charging him with an “attempt to overthrow the government through prayer and worship.”
According to Bae, a North Korean government official told him that if he helped one person become a Christian then that person would teach others about the Christian faith and eventually that group of people would become a “threat” to the government.
“They will break our unity and they will break the faith in our leader,” Bae recalled being told.
He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor but was granted early release in November 2014 after repeated U.S. intervention on his behalf.
After the event on Capitol Hill, Rangel was asked if he is satisfied with the way the Obama administration is dealing with North Korea after the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, again called for the destruction of the U.S.
“I’m satisfied because I haven’t the slightest idea what you can do with someone that’s so unpredictable as he is. So no, we don’t have any idea, but I know one thing – we wish we had better cooperation from the Chinese government. They provide the umbilical economic cord for the survival of North Korea and it seems as though Russia and the Chinese are working with the UN and working more closely together,” he said.
When asked if there is anything the U.S. can do to get China to cooperate, Rangel replied, “No, it’s a big country.”