In a recently released memoir, Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae writes about his harrowing imprisonment in North Korea, where he was arrested on charges of unauthorized proselytizing. Originally sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, Bae was released in two. But he remains the longest-held American detainee to date.
Since returning to the United States in 2014, Bae has been vocal about his experience, which for the first month included as many as 15 hours of daily interrogation.
“I felt like an insect, tangled in the spider web,” Bae said of his imprisonment. “Every time I moved it got messier, with no way out.”
North Korea’s totalitarian leaders didn’t appreciate the criticism. This week, officials in Pyongyang blasted Bae, calling him a “filthy object” and a “Judas,” and threatening to halt diplomatic dialogue on the release of two other American citizens currently in their custody.
“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,” the North’s KCNA news agency said on Monday.
“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 once again,” the report added.
Critics note North Korea often uses the plight of prisoners to attract high-profile officials from the United States, who rarely visit the well-sealed kingdom otherwise.
The U.S. State Department discourages citizens from visiting North Korea, “due to the serious risk of arrest and long-term detention,” warning of “unduly harsh sentences, including for actions that in the United States would not be considered crimes.”
In January, police in Pyongyang arrested American college student Otto Warmbier when he tried to pilfer a propaganda poster of the late Kim Jong Il. He is still being held. Another American, Jeffrey Fowle, was detained for six months after he left a Bible in a nightclub bathroom. Other “hostile acts” for tourists in North Korea include shopping at retailers not approved for foreigners, talking to locals, taking pictures without official permission, and bringing pornography into the country.
Meanwhile, North Korea is fuming over 12 of its own citizens detained in South Korea.
The Koreas are locked in a bitter dispute over the alleged abduction of a dozen North Korean waitresses, with Pyongyang accusing South Korea’s National Intelligence Service of kidnapping the women, while Seoul says they willingly defected. The women have been in custody since early May but have not yet made public statements or appeared in court. Officials had scheduled a closed-door hearing for this week in Seoul’s Central District Court but later postponed it when they realized the women would not testify. Some say the waitresses are keeping quiet for fear of backlash against their relatives in North Korea.
“They say our children defected, making their own free decision,” said So Thae Song, father of one of the detained waitresses. “I can’t accept this.”
Almost 30,000 North Koreans have defected to the South since the Korean War ended in 1953, but it remains a sensitive topic. While many North Koreans flourish outside their home country, others face significant struggle. According to the BBC, suicide rates among North Korean defectors surged from 7 percent to 14 percent last year.
Courtesy: WORLD News Service
Publication date: June 27, 2016