Sunday, May 19, 2013

American Christian Tour Operator Languishes in North Korean Prison

My prayers are with my brother in Christ.

05/18/2013 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – After the recent sentencing of an American Christian to 15 years’ hard labor, North Korea shows no signs of releasing the U.S. tour operator, solidifying its reputation as the world’s worst persecutor of Christians. In November 2012, Kenneth Bae (Pae Jun-ho), a 44-year-old Korean American tour operator was arrested by authorities in North Korea while leading a trip with five Europeans into the Rason Special Economic Zone, a pilot region on the border of China and Russia which is open to foreign companies.

Bae, who lived in China, ran a travel agency called Nation Tours and had visited North Korea several times before without incident, according to Do Hee-youn, who heads the Citizens Coalition for the Human Rights of North Korean Refugees, based in Seoul. He is at least the sixth American detained in North Korea since 2009.

Since his sudden arrest on unclear charges, there was almost no news of him, until May 6, when the government-run Korean Central News Agency reported that he was charged with “committing crimes aimed at toppling the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea with hostility towards it,” according to The Independent.

Reasons for Arrest
On May 10, after mounting pressure on North Korea to provide justification for his arrest and sentencing, the government released a detailed report with a long list of allegations against him. According to the report, Bae gave anti-Pyongyang lectures in China and “infiltrated” about 250 students into the city of Rason.

North Korea said that Bae “set up plot-breeding bases in different places of China for the purpose of toppling the government from 2006 to October 2012 out of distrust and enmity. He committed such hostile acts as egging citizens of (North Korea) overseas and foreigners on to perpetrate hostile acts to bring down its government while conducting a malignant smear campaign against it. He was caught red handed,” The Guardian reported.

Speculation surrounds the reason for his arrest in the first place, with reasons including his compassion for orphans, possible links with a missionary organization and his potential for being used by North Korea as bait for political maneuvering.

Bae is known to have “feelings for orphans and has done some ministry work feeding orphans,” according to David Ross of Antioch World Ministries Inc. in Monroe, Washington. Ross and Bae reportedly met four years ago through church affiliations in Hawaii and have been “casual acquaintances” since, according to UCA News. It’s possible that he was arrested while taking pictures of orphans in the markets of Rason, something in keeping with his known concern for children, which was taken to be anti-North Korean propaganda. However that remains speculative, at best.

“I don’t know the specifics about that. I think he could have because of who he is and he’s generous in giving, maybe he could have delivered bread to orphanages once or twice, but I really don’t know if that is the reason,” his sister, Terri Chung, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

According to the Telegraph, Bae’s Facebook page links to an organization in Ohio called the Joseph Connection, which describes itself as “a Christ centered, humanitarian outreach to the Least of the Least world-wide.” It organizes short-term trips into closed or restricted countries “to touch the average person.” If discovered, the missionary link could have prompted his arrest. North Korea has a history of violent and extreme persecution of Christians. For 11 consecutive years, Open Doors has ranked the country as the leading persecutor of Christians, a view supported by the Pew Research Center(Source).

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