Yellow Ribbon Project

North Korea Rebuffs U.S. Attempts to Secure Bae’s Release, Sends Him Back to Hard Labor

Not only has North Korea shipped an American prisoner from a hospital back to a labor camp, but has again denied a U.S. official entry to try to negotiate the release of Kenneth Bae.

Bae, 45, was born in South Korea and graduated from high school in Torrance, Calif. 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.

After a secret “trial” in April, Bae was sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor for “hostile acts against the republic.”

Pyongyang recently made Bae “confess” on video to “crimes” against the communist country, raising hopes that he’d be released soon from the hospital where he’d been sent as his health deteriorated. Bae has been losing his vision because he can’t get proper care for his diabetes; he also has gallstones, and the labor camp took a toll on his heart.

Bae was moved back to a labor camp on Jan. 20, just after he made a public appeal to Washington to help secure his release.

“I can tell you that we are deeply disappointed by the DPRK decision for a second time to rescind its invitation for Ambassador King to travel to Pyongyang to discuss Kenneth Bae’s release. The DPRK announced publicly in May of 2013 that it would not use the fate of Kenneth Bae as a political bargaining chip,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said today.

North Korea said its decision was influenced by joint military exercises conducted by the U.S. and South Korea, drills Carney said are “transparent, regularly scheduled, and defense-oriented.”

“We again call on the DPRK to grant Mr. Bae special amnesty and immediate release as a humanitarian gesture so that he may reunite with his family and seek medical care. We will continue to work actively to secure Mr. Bae’s release. Per our longstanding offer, we remain prepared to send Ambassador King to North Korea in support of that effort,” Carney said.

President Clinton, who previously intervened to secure the release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who were working for Al Gore’s Current TV when captured in 2009, hasn’t offered to intervene on Bae’s behalf; neither has former President Carter.

Jesse Jackson jumped into the case today, though, and offered to go to North Korea to try to secure the release of the Washington state resident.

“We’ve said repeatedly that this is a top priority for us and we’re going to pursue all avenues to have him released,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said today.

“At the request of the Bae family, I think people are aware that Reverend Jackson — Jesse Jackson — had offered to travel to Pyongyang on a humanitarian mission focused on Bae’s release. We support the efforts, of course, of the family, but also of Reverend Jackson to bring Kenneth Bae home,” Harf added.