On Monday, North Korean officials announced they will not negotiate the release of two American citizens in their custody until former detainee Kenneth Bae stops publicly discussing his imprisonment in the communist state.
In November, 2012, Kenneth Bae was arrested in North Korea for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government. According to reports, the American missionary was charged with numerous crimes, including preaching against North Korea, planning a religious coup, conducting a smear campaign, and encouraging others to overthrow the North Korean government.
— Christian Today (@ChristianToday) June 20, 2016
At the time of his arrest, Bae was labeled as the “most dangerous American” in North Korea.
Despite the severity of his alleged crimes and the length of his sentence, Kenneth Bae was released after serving 735 days.
Following his 2014 release, the former detainee wrote a memoir about his time in the North Korean prison. Amid the book’s May, 2016, release, Bae granted numerous interviews, in which he discussed his imprisonment in detail.
According to Kenneth, he was forced to work on a farm eight hours a day, six days a week. The former prisoner said he lost nearly 60 pounds due to the combination of hard labor and a lack of adequate food.
Kenneth said he was also humiliated during his imprisonment and was often paraded around in his work uniform — which had the number “103” embossed on the chest.
Although Bae believes the American people need to know how he suffered while imprisoned, the North Korean government disagrees.
In a recent press release, North Korea’s state-owned news agency KCNA said “as long as Kenneth Bae continues his babbling, we will not proceed with any compromise or negotiations with the United States on the subject of American criminals, and there will certainly not be any such thing as humanitarian action. If Bae continues, U.S. criminals held in our country will be in the pitiful state of never being able to set foot in their homeland again.”
In March, Otto Warmbier, a 21-year old from the University of Virginia, was sentenced to 15 years in a North Korea jail for attempting to steal a political banner in a staff-only section of a North Korean hotel. In April, Korean-American missionary Kim Dong Chul was convicted of espionage and sentenced to 10 years of hard labor.
— Lisa Daftari (@LisaDaftari) June 20, 2016
According to Reuters, the North Korean government often uses detained Americans to facilitate high-profile visits from U.S. government officials.
Americans have routinely been released from North Korea prisons after high-profile officials paid a visit to Pyongyang. The communist state has reportedly used the visits to fuel its domestic propaganda, portraying the West, and particularly the U.S., as a humiliated country forced to beg for the release of its citizens.
In 2014, missionary Jeffrey Fowle was arrested for leaving a Bible in a bathroom during a visit to North Korea. Although he was neither convicted nor sentenced, Fowle said he was held at the Yanggakdo hotel — the same place Warmbier stayed and allegedly tried to steal a propaganda banner.
Fowle said he was not cuffed during his detention. However, he was under guard 24 hours a day. Jeffrey said his hotel room television was modified to only show North Korean channels.
According to the missionary, he was later moved to a guesthouse where he remained under constant guard and was fed meals consisting of only rice and broth. Fowle said power outages occurred on a regular basis and plumbing was practically non-existent in the guesthouse.
Jeffrey Fowle was released five months later per an agreement between officials in North Korea and the United States.
In 2009, Korean-American journalist Euna Lee was found guilty of entering North Korea illegally and sentenced to 12 years in prison with hard labor. She was freed after former president Bill Clinton traveled to Pyongyang.
Lee recounted her experiences in a book, The World is Bigger Now. According to her book, Euna Lee was held in a guesthouse and survived on a basic Korean meal of rice and vegetables. Euna said she was questioned eight hours a day, six days a week, for more than one month.
Citing cases like that of Kenneth Bae, the United States has routinely advised its citizens to avoid traveling to North Korea, where they could be arrested on questionable charges and detained indefinitely.
[Image via Viktoria Gaman/Shutterstock]