WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry met Tuesday with relatives of a Lynnwood man held by North Korea and is calling for him to be pardoned and immediately freed.
U.S. officials say the detainee, Kenneth Bae, is in poor health. He was arrested in November 2012 while leading a tour group and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for unspecified anti-government activity. Supporters say he did nothing wrong.
In a statement after Tuesday’s meeting, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Bae and his family have apologized publicly for actions that led to the conviction.
“We fully support the efforts of the Bae family to bring Kenneth Bae home. We continue to urge the DPRK to pardon Bae for his actions and grant him amnesty and immediate release,” Psaki said, referring to the nation’s formal title, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
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North Korea has given no sign it will free him.
Bae was moved to a hospital last summer in poor health, but he said at a news conference organized by North Korean officials earlier this month that he was being transferred back to prison.
Analysts say North Korea has historically used detained Americans as bargaining chips in its dealings with the United States. The two nations do not have formal diplomatic relations because the 1950-53 Korean War ended without a peace treaty. Relations have been strained by the North’s development of nuclear weapons.
Bae’s mother, Myunghee Bae, and sister Terri Chung, of Edmonds, attended President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday, hosted by U.S. Reps. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, and Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.
Rangel said that by inviting the family, he was reiterating his call for North Korea to free Bae.
In Beijing, Glyn Davies, U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, also appealed for Bae’s freedom, saying he’s already been held longer than any other American detainee in North Korea in recent decades.