The mother of Kenneth Bae, a Lynnwood man who has been detained in North Korea for 11 months now, announced after arriving in North Korea today that she hopes to visit her son during a five-day visit.
Bae has become ill while imprisoned, according to a statement released by his mother, Myunghee Bae, and the mission of her trip is to offer him encouragement. The 45-year-old married father of three was hospitalized two months ago after his health deteriorated because of his diabetes, enlarged heart and back pain.
Myunghee Bae, 68, says in a video released with the statement that when she first saw images of her imprisoned son this summer, she could hardly recognize him.
“He looked so different, and he lost so much weight, I could not …,” she said, then paused. “… believe that prisoner was my son.”
She pleaded with the country for permission to visit and see her son, a request that was granted two weeks ago, said Terri Chung, Kenneth Bae’s sister. Chung said the family coordinated the trip through a Swedish ambassador.
Kenneth’s mother said in her statement she doesn’t know exactly what to expect to happen during her trip.
“As a mother, I worry endlessly about his health,” she said in the video statement. “I want to see him and comfort him and hold him in person. I miss him so much.”
Chung, of Edmonds, said the last two weeks the family spent preparing Myunghee Bae for the trip were filled with mixed emotions.
“We’re excited but also nervous about what she might find,” said Chung. “It’s nerve-wracking for sure. But we’d rather know than not know.”
North Korea sentenced Kenneth Bae to 15 years of hard labor in May for “hostile acts” against the regime. He was arrested on Nov. 3 while leading the kind of tourist trip he’d led several times before in Rason, a city in North Korea.
Several attempts to negotiate for his release, including a hope that celebrity Dennis Rodman might be able to use “basketball diplomacy” to change North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s mind, have failed so far.
“We hope this trip highlights the need for Kenneth to come home,” said Chung. “He’s in poor health, we all miss him, and we want him out.”