After a two week lull in what had seemed to be almost daily threats of war and nuclear devastation, North Korea has grabbed the spotlight again this week, announcing that it would be putting American tour guide Kenneth Bae six months after his November arrest.
According to the Korean Central News Agency, during the couse of ‘preliminary inquiries,’ Mr Bae was alleged to have”admitted that he committed crimes aimed to topple the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea with hostility toward it.” The true nature of his crimes remains unclear however.
An ethnic Korean with US citizenship, he was arrested during the course of a visit to Rason Special Economic Zone, a region on the Sino-Russian border which is open to foreign industry. At the time he was in the company of five Europeans, none of whom were charged.
The Communist state is adamant that it has sufficient evidence to convict him, and more worryingly, has implied that it intends to exact a harsh punishment, which many believe will be the death penalty.
In spite of visits by Google Chief Eric Schmidt and the Governor of New Mexico in January, Mr Bae’s fate had remained shadowed in secrecy up until now. The Communist state is adamant that it has sufficient evidence to convict him, and more worryingly, has implied that it intends to exact a harsh punishment, which many believe will be the death penalty. The US, which has no diplomatic relations with the rouge state, has been conducting negotiations to secure his release through the Swedish Embassy, though sadly to no avail.
Before his arrest, Mr Bae is thought to have been running a China based travel agency. He had conducted several trips to North Korea before without incident. His family have declined from commenting on the case for fear of unintentionally exacerbating the situation.
There are several theories as to what the reason for his arrest may be. South Korean media has reported that ‘sensitive’ information was found on Mr Bae’s person which panicked officials. Another theory is that he may have been taking pictures of starving orphans, an act considered ‘anti-North Korean propoganda’- however no tourist has been arrested for this before.
All previous detainees were released after visits from high profile US leaders, including Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton- events that North Korean state media paraded as examples of the might of the state, forcing it’s western ‘enemy’ to kowtow for their freedom
Kenneth Bae is the sixth American to be arrested in Korea. All previous detainees were released after visits from high profile US leaders, including Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton- events that North Korean state media paraded as examples of the might of the state, forcing it’s western ‘enemy’ to kowtow for their freedom. The date of Mr Bae’s trial has yet to be announced, and many analysts have speculated that the state is looking to use him as a human bargaining chip with the international community. Tightened sanctions have exacerbated an already dire food and medical supply situation in recent years, and many believe that the country is in a state of almost chronic famine condition.
Others believe that he may have been attempting to carry out missionary work. Mr Bae’s Facebook page links to the Joseph Connection, a Christian group which bills itself as “a Christ centered, humanitarian outreach to the Least of the Least world-wide. The Joseph Connection organizes short term trips into closed or restricted countries to touch the average person.” There is a precedent of missionaries carrying out covert proselytising in East Asia, notable in the Tibetan region and Southern China, much to the chagrin of local officials. However the stakes for spreading the gospel are much higher in North Korea, and proselytising is an extreme crime. There is a long history of persecution of Christian missionaries in the country.