North Korea said through its government news agency Friday that Kenneth Bae of Lynnwood, Wash., used his tour company as a front to bring a Christian mission within its borders. Bae was arrested in North Korea in November 2012 and was sentenced last week to 15 years of hard labor on charges of subverting the North Korean government.
Bae’s friends have described him as a devout Christian. The independent NK News reports that Bae once told fellow Christians, “I knew that Jesus wanted me to be a ‘channel’ to the North.”
Foreign religious missions are frowned on by the North Korean government.
“He wouldn’t be the first to be doing this kind of thing,” Chad O’Carroll of NK News told KUOW Friday, predicting that Bae would be freed within the year. “North Korea has a track record of arresting US nationals, most of them Asian Americans, most of them involved in religious activities. And most of them are freed when a senior, high-ranking American goes to Pyongyang for meetings.”
The State Department has asked for Bae’s release, but has no diplomatic presence in Pyongyang. President Barack Obama said Tuesday, “The days when North Korea could create a crisis and elicit concessions, those days are over." The North Korean government news agency rejected speculation that it had arrested Bae as a bargaining chip.
Friday the celebrity news website TMZ released video of retired NBA rebounder Dennis Rodman criticizing President Obama for a lack of results in Bae’s case, saying he would address the subject with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in person in August.
On Tuesday Rodman answered the challenge of a Seattle Times writer who said Rodman should use his well-publicized friendship with Kim to secure Bae’s freedom. In a tweet, Rodman asked Kim to “do me a solid and cut Kenneth Bae loose.”