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July 22, 2013 at 6:00 AM
Kenneth Bae’s latest letters from North Korean prison raise family’s concerns
The strange dearth of media coverage on American prisoner Kenneth Bae got a little boost over the weekend after The New York Times’ Rick Gladstone wrote this July 19 news story indicating the North Koreans may be ready to negotiate for Bae’s release from a hard labor camp.
Diplomats who have dealt with North Korea said the unspoken message in both the video and the letters was that the North Korean authorities wanted to see more publicity about Mr. Bae as part of their broader effort to seek direct contact with the United States government.
Bae’s sister, Terri Chung, lives in Edmonds. In a phone conversation with me last Friday, she reiterated her family’s concerns over the Washington native’s health after viewing this July 3 prison video obtained by CNN.
“Even though he’s being treated humanely, his health is clearly deteriorating,” she said. “He’s been there for eight-and-a-half months and we need to do more to get him out.”
I can understand why the family feels helpless. Unlike previous detainees like Laura Ling and Euna Lee, Kenneth Bae is not a journalist. At the time of his capture, he was leading a tourist group through North Korea. Nor does he have personal links to the likes of a television network or former Vice President Al Gore and former President Bill Clinton. It might be easy to forget he’s under Pyongyang’s watch, but we shouldn’t.
For months, the U.S. State Department has called for Bae’s release on humanitarian grounds. The Seattle Times editorial board has written consistently about Bae’s detainment since December in a series of editorials here, here, here and here. In May, NBA Hall of Fame player Dennis Rodman responded via Twitter to this Opinion NW blog post asking for his help, which led to a firestorm of attention on Twitter and a renewed pledge to Sports Illustrated that he would try to bring the Washington resident back during his scheduled Aug. 1 trip return to North Korea. (According to the Times story, no word yet on whether Rodman’s trip is still actually going to happen.)
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson weighed in on the situation during a recent Asia Society lecture on North Korea, and said “unorthodox” methods like relying on Rodman may be necessary to free Bae.
I hope more media outlets call attention to this man’s plight. He is an American citizen caught in the middle of an international crisis.