New letter from American held in North Korea points to poorer health

Wed Aug 7, 2013 11:48pm EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Eric M. Johnson

LYNNWOOD, Washington (Reuters) - Kenneth Bae, a U.S. citizen imprisoned in North Korea for crimes against the state, made a fresh appeal to the U.S. government for help and chronicled his declining health in a letter that reached his family on Wednesday, his sister said.

Bae was sentenced in early May to 15 years of hard labor after North Korea's Supreme Court convicted him of state subversion, saying the 45-year-old Christian missionary had used his tourism business to form groups to overthrow the government.

Bae has been held since he was detained in November as he led a tour group through the northern region of the country. His sentencing came amid acrimonious relations between Pyongyang and Washington over the reclusive state's nuclear aspirations.

"He said it is definitely getting harder for his body to withstand the day-to-day labor, but he is trying his best to be strong and hold on," Bae's sister, Terri Chung, told Reuters in an interview at her mother's home in a Seattle suburb. The letter was written July 14.

Bae spends eight hours a day, six days a week planting and plowing fields of potatoes and beans among other work at a prison for foreigners near Pyongyang where he is kept largely isolated, Chung said.

A naturalized U.S. citizen born in South Korea who most recently lived in China, Bae has back pain, an enlarged heart, hypertension and diabetes and his vision has started to blur, Chung said.

"His health is deteriorating and he asks us to have our government help to bring him home," said Chung, who teaches English at a Seattle community college.

North Korea has in the past used the release of high-profile American prisoners as a means of garnering a form of prestige or acceptance, rather than economic gain, by portraying visiting dignitaries as paying homage to the country and its leader.   Continued...

Myunghee Bae holds a letter sent to her from prison by her son, Kenneth Bae, at her home in Lynnwood, Washington August 7, 2013. REUTERS/David Ryder