One of North Korea’s three imprisoned Americans was released today, reviving hopes that Kenneth Bae, 46, of Lynnwood may be the next to come home — long before serving his full, 15-year sentence in one of the communist country’s notoriously harsh labor camps.
Today, though, only Jeffrey Fowle, 56, of Ohio was sent home.
Bae’s sister, Terri Chung, said she was initially hopeful her brother was coming home when reports of a released American reached her phone Tuesday morning, just minutes before she started teaching an English class at North Seattle Community College.
Chung, who had stayed up until 3 a.m. the night before thinking about how to mark the two-year anniversary of her brother’s arrest on Nov. 3, said she had mixed emotions when she found out her brother was not released.
“We’re certainly happy for [Jeffrey Fowle’s] family – anytime someone comes home, it’s a victory,” said Chung. “We can’t help but be disappointed that Kenneth wasn’t released as well, but it seems like a step in the right direction.”
The last time Bae’s family heard anything about his status was Sept. 1 when CNN was suddenly allowed to interview Bae. It seemed in the interview that Bae would be returning to a labor camp after he was treated at a hospital for multiple health problems including complications from diabetes.
Chung says the State Department has not given her family any indication that their mission to release Bae is gaining any momentum. She said that while her family is trying to maintain faith that the department is doing everything it can, she will not stop putting pressure on them to do more.
“They tell me that they’re working quietly behind the scenes, but there’s no concrete progress yet,” Chung said. “We’re asking, ‘How could it be that he has been languishing there for two years?’ We feel outraged about it.”
North Korea arrested Bae, a father of three grown children, as he led a tour — one he’d led at least 15 times before — through the city of Rason. He was charged with what the country deemed “hostile acts” associated with a Christian plot to overthrow the country’s regime.
Since then, Chung says, the family gets updates about Bae once every couple of months, many times only through sudden and unexpected interviews with media.
“It is devastating to have a loved one detained in a foreign country, cut off from regular contact and to not know how long it will last,” Chung said. “I trust that my brother’s time will come, and I pray that it is soon.”