By Jeff Brumley
U.S. political events and officials this week have refocused attention on the plight of Kenneth Bae, the American Christian missionary sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea.
In a Tuesday meeting with Bae’s family, Secretary of State John Kerry called again on the North Korean government to pardon and release Bae, citing his poor health, The Associated Press reported.
Bae, 44, was arrested in November 2012 while leading a tour group of the Communist nation. He was later sentenced for conducting unspecified anti-government activity.
Also on Tuesday, Bae’s mother and sister attended President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address. They were the guests of Democratic U.S. Reps. Rick Larsen, of Washington, and Charles Rangel of New York, according to news reports.
Bae was born in South Korea and came to the United States as a teenager. But it was his religious convictions that led him back to the Korean Peninsula and ultimate into trouble in the North, according to his family’s web site, freekennow.com.
“Several years ago, Kenneth saw an opportunity that combined his entrepreneurial spirit with his personal convictions as a Christian,” the family said. “He believed in showing compassion to the North Korean people by contributing to their economy in the form of tourism.”
He began working from China in 2006, operating a tour company specializing in visits to North Korea. When he was arrested on Nov. 3, 2012, it was on a tour he had led at least 15 times before, the family said.
“Nine months into his imprisonment—the longest time anyone has been detained by North Korea — Kenneth’s health is failing as his body strains to withstand the impact of the labor camp.”