Skip to main content

Kenneth Bae's mother visits North Korea to see imprisoned son

By Madison Park, CNN
October 11, 2013 -- Updated 0935 GMT (1735 HKT)
The American, Kenneth Bae is seen in a North Korean hospital room earlier this year.
The American, Kenneth Bae is seen in a North Korean hospital room earlier this year.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mother of Kenneth Bae arrives in North Korea to visit her son, says family friend
  • Bae has been sentenced to 15 years in North Korean labor camp
  • His mother says she was alarmed by her son's appearance in a July prison interview

(CNN) -- The mother of Kenneth Bae, the American imprisoned in North Korea, has arrived in the country to visit her ailing son, according to a friend of the family.

Earlier this year, Bae, a Korean-American, was sentenced to 15 years in a North Korean labor camp for what the government called "hostile acts."

His family has not been able to see him for almost a year since his November 3 arrest in North Korea.

"As a mother, I worry endlessly about his health," said his mother, Myunghee Bae in a videotaped statement. "I want to see him, comfort and hold him in person. I miss him so much."

Rodman: Jailed American not my problem
Imprisoned American's sister speaks out
Imprisoned American's health failing
Sister: Kenneth Bae is too weak to work

Bae, of Lynwood, Washington, said that she pleaded with the North Korean authorities to let her visit her son, and expressed gratitude for granting permission. She is expected to be in North Korea for five days with the goal of encouraging her son who has become ill, according to a website dedicated to Kenneth Bae's freedom.

In a prison interview released in July, Kenneth Bae had spoken of health problems including diabetes, high blood pressure, fatty liver and a back problem. He looked noticeably thinner and wore a blue prison garment streaked with sweat and dirt.

His family say he has lost more than 50 pounds.

"My heart was broken into pieces when his prison interview was released on July 3," said his mother, in her statement. "His appearance was very shocking, he looked so different, and he lost so much weight. I could not believe that prisoner was my son."

Bae was moved to a hospital for serious health problems, his sister, Terri Chung had told CNN in August.

In previous interviews, Chung has said that her brother suffers from health problems including severe back and leg pain, kidney stones, dizziness, blurred vision and loss of vision. He was already dealing with diabetes.

His family and friends have asked North Korea for mercy and the United States for help in securing his release.

U.S. officials have repeatedly called on North Korea to release Bae. In August, the two countries appeared close, but North Korea rescinded an invitation to a U.S. envoy. Ambassador Robert King, President Barack Obama's special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, had been expected to fly to Pyongyang to try to win his freedom.

In previous instances, North Korea has released Americans in its custody after a visit by some U.S. dignitary -- in recent cases, former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

Bae was arrested last year after arriving as a tourist in Rason City, a port in the northeastern corner of North Korea. His sister says that Bae is the owner of a tour company and was in North Korea for work.

The North Korean government accuses Bae of setting up bases in China for the purpose of "toppling" the North Korean government, encouraging North Korean citizens to bring down the government and conducting a "malignant smear campaign."

The country's state media also says that Bae had planned what it called a "Jericho operation" to bring down North Korea through religious activities. They have suggested that Bae could have been sentenced to death, but avoided it through "candid confession of his crimes."

On the eve of her trip, his mother looked solemnly into the camera, expressing her anxiety.

"It's hard to describe the agony of the past year since my son has been imprisoned in the DPRK," she said in a released statement. "I spend every day thinking about him and praying for his homecoming."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 0117 GMT (0917 HKT)
Sources tell Evan Perez that U.S. investigators have determined North Korea was in fact behind the Sony hacking.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 0148 GMT (0948 HKT)
Obama says people should "go to the movies" without fear, despite hackers' threats against venues that show "The Interview".
December 2, 2014 -- Updated 0035 GMT (0835 HKT)
CNN's Brian Todd reports on the hacking of Sony Pictures and whether North Korea could be behind it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
As the U.S. gets ready to blame the Sony hack on North Korea, a troublesome question is emerging: Just what is North Korea capable of?
December 9, 2014 -- Updated 0157 GMT (0957 HKT)
A retired Silicon Valley executive and Korean War veteran was hauled off his plane at Pyongyang in 2013. Here's what happened next.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1057 GMT (1857 HKT)
A recent defector from North Korea tells of the harrowing escape into China via Chinese 'snakehead' gangs.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0039 GMT (0839 HKT)
CNN's Amara Walker speaks to a former North Korean prison guard about the abuses he witnessed and was forced to enact on prisoners.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0559 GMT (1359 HKT)
The chief of the Commission of Inquiry into North Korea's human rights says the world can no longer plead ignorance to the regime's offenses.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Kim Jong Il's former bodyguard tells of the beatings and starvation he endured while imprisoned in the country's most notorious prison camp.
November 10, 2014 -- Updated 1834 GMT (0234 HKT)
Christian Whiton argues "putting the United States at the same table as lawless thugs isn't just morally repugnant -- it's ineffective".
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 0543 GMT (1343 HKT)
Despite tense relations, China benefits from Kim Jong Un's rule in North Korea. David McKenzie explains.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 0851 GMT (1651 HKT)
North Korea has "the world's most advantageous human rights system" and citizens have "priceless political integrity", the country declared.
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 0852 GMT (1652 HKT)
Pro-wrestling, country clubs and theme parks are just some of the attractions North Korea wants you to see on a tightly controlled tour of the country.
ADVERTISEMENT