The sister of a Lynnwood man detained for more than a year in North Korea echoed her brother’s apology for crimes he committed and his plea to the U.S. government to ramp up efforts to secure his release.
In a statement released Monday after Kenneth Bae gave a brief news conference in North Korea, Terri Chung, of Edmonds, said, “We understand that Kenneth has been convicted of crimes under DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) laws. Our family sincerely apologizes on Kenneth’s behalf.”
Chung’s statement was a change in tone from previous times she’s spoken of her brother in which she said he did nothing wrong and was legally working in North Korea as a tour operator.
Kim Jin Moo, a North Korea expert at the state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul, South Korea, said Bae’s apology should be viewed in the context of the complex relationship between North Korea and the United States.
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“We shouldn’t take Kenneth Bae’s comments merely as his own,” Jin Moo said. “The reason why North Korea had Kenneth Bae make this statement … is that they want Washington to reach out to them.”
Chung said to North Korea’s leaders: “We humbly ask for your mercy to release my brother.” The family is concerned about Bae’s health, and Chung said she could “see that he was distressed.”
Bae was accused of subversive activities against the authoritarian government. Several years ago, Bae gave a sermon in which he advocated Americans going to North Korea for a mass prayer session to bring about the reunification of North and South Korea.
At the news conference Monday, Bae apologized and said he had committed anti-government acts. He wore a gray cap and inmate’s uniform with the number 103 on his chest and was under guard during the appearance.
It is not unusual for prisoners in North Korea to say after their release that they spoke in similar situations under duress.
Bae pointed to a comment by Vice President Joe Biden last month as having made his situation more difficult. “The vice president of United States said that I was detained here without any reason,” Bae said. “And even my younger sister recently told the press that I had not committed any crime, and I know that the media reported it.
“I think these comments infuriated the people here enormously. And for this reason, I am in a difficult situation now. As a result, although I was in medical treatment in the hospital for five months until now, it seems I should return to prison. And moreover there is greater difficulty in discussions about my amnesty.”
Bae was arrested in November 2012 while leading a tour group and accused of crimes against the state before being sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. He was moved to a hospital last summer in poor health.
In her statement, Chung thanked U.S. leaders for their efforts so far but called for an increased push to secure her brother’s release.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Tuesday the U.S. government “very recently” repeated its offer to send Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues Robert King to Pyongyang to seek Bae’s release. The U.S. is awaiting North Korea’s response.