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Kenneth Bae

Freed North Korea Detainee Kenneth Bae Focuses on Pizza, Prayer and Family

by DONNA BLANKINSHIP and JOSH LEDERMAN, Associated Press

SEATTLE (AP) — Rest, food and family are on the top of Kenneth Bae’s list since arriving home this weekend after years of imprisonment in North Korea.

His sister said he hasn’t spoken about his ordeal yet, but family and friends reconnected late Saturday night over pizza.

“Our family loves food, so we talked a lot about food,” Terri Chung said Sunday outside her Seattle church. They didn’t ask him a lot of questions. “We mostly wanted to hear from him.”

She said her brother had one stipulation for his first meal back home: No Korean food.

“He said, ‘I don’t want Korean food, that’s all I’ve been eating for the last two years,'” Chung said.

Bae and Matthew Miller, another American who had been held captive in North Korea, landed Saturday night at a Washington state military base after a top U.S. intelligence official secured their release.

“It’s been an amazing two years, I learned a lot, I grew a lot, I lost a lot of weight,” Bae, a Korean-American missionary with health problems, said Saturday night after arriving at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. Asked how he was feeling, he said, “I’m recovering at this time.”

Bae, surrounded by family members, spoke briefly to the media after the plane carrying him and Miller landed. He thanked President Barack Obama and the people who supported him and his family. He also thanked the North Korean government for releasing him.

Chung said Bae was in better shape when he arrived than his family expected. The family has said he suffers from diabetes, an enlarged heart, liver problems and back pain. He had spent about six weeks in a North Korean hospital before his return, his sister said.

“That helped. As you know, he had gone back and forth between the labor camp and hospital,” she said, adding a doctor checked him on the flight back to the United States.

His plans for the near future include rest, food and reconnecting with friends and family. Neither his wife nor his children could make it back to Seattle in time for Bae’s homecoming, but the whole family plans to gather for Thanksgiving, Chung said.

Chung released a statement Monday, saying Bae wants to spend time with family and friends and will need time to decide what he will do next and where he will live.

Members of Bae’s family, who live near the sprawling military base south of Seattle, met him when he landed Saturday. His mother hugged him after he got off the plane. Miller stepped off the U.S. government aircraft a short time later and also was greeted with hugs.

U.S. officials said Miller of Bakersfield, California, and Bae of Lynnwood, Washington, flew back with James Clapper, the director of national intelligence. Clapper was the highest-ranking American to visit Pyongyang in more than a decade.

Their release was the latest twist in the fitful relationship between the Obama administration and the young North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, whose approach to the U.S. has shifted back and forth from defiance to occasional conciliation.

Bae was serving a 15-year sentence for alleged anti-government activities. He was detained in 2012 while leading a tour group to a North Korea economic zone.

Miller was serving a six-year jail term on charges of espionage after he allegedly ripped up his tourist visa at Pyongyang’s airport in April and demanded asylum. North Korea said Miller had wanted to experience prison life so he could secretly investigate the country’s human rights situation.

Bae and Miller were the last two Americans detained by the reclusive Communist country.

Last month, North Korea released Jeffrey Fowle of Miamisburg, Ohio, who was held for nearly six months. He had left a Bible in a nightclub in the hope that it would reach North Korea’s underground Christian community.

Speaking Sunday, Chung said her brother was enjoying visiting with loved ones.

“He was cut off from all of that for two years,” she said. “His only contacts were his guard, and maybe doctors and a handful of times, the Swedish Embassy.”

Chung said Bae “bears no ill will” over his ordeal and still has warm feelings for the North Korean people. He hasn’t told them many details, and Chung said she remains worried about her brother.

She thanked people around the world for their prayers and government officials and others for advocating for Bae’s release.

“First and foremost we thank God,” Chung said, adding soon afterward: “I have to thank President Obama.”

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Associated Press writers Manuel Valdes, Ken Dilanian, Matthew Pennington, AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee, White House Correspondent Julie Pace, AP writer Nedra Pickler, AP National Security Writer Lara Jakes in Muscat, Oman, and AP writer John Seewer in Toledo, Ohio, contributed to this report.

 

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Kenneth Bae

North Korea Releases Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller

by MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press

The U.S. on Saturday announced the release of the two Americans in North Korean custody after a secret trip to the reclusive communist country by President Barack Obama’s national intelligence director.

“It’s a wonderful day for them and their families,” Obama said at the White House following his announcement of his pick for attorney general. “Obviously we are very grateful for their safe return.”

Matthew Miller of Bakersfield, California, and Kenneth Bae of Lynnwood, Washington, were accompanying James Clapper, the intelligence chief, back to the United States.

Miller was serving a six-year jail term on charges of espionage after he allegedly ripped his tourist visa at Pyongyang’s airport in April and demanded asylum. North Korea said Miller had wanted to experience prison life so that he could secretly investigate North Korea’s human rights situation.

Bae, a Korean American missionary with health problems, was serving a 15-year sentence for alleged anti-government activities. He was detained in 2012 while leading a tour group to a North Korea economic zone.

U.S. officials did not immediately provide other details about the circumstances of the Americans’ release or when they would return home.

Administration officials said the timing of the release was not related to President Barack Obama’s imminent trip to China, Myanmar and Australia.

Clapper traveled to North Korea as a presidential envoy, officials said, and apparently is the highest-ranking administration official to visit Pyongyang.

Obama said he Clapper was “doing a great job on what was obviously a challenging mission.”

Bae and Miller were the last Americans held by North Korea following the release last month of Jeffrey Fowle of Miamisburg, Ohio, who was held for nearly six months. He had left a Bible in a nightclub in the hope that it would reach North Korea’s underground Christian community.

Fowle said his fellow Americans’ release is “an answer to a prayer.” He said he initially thought Bae and Miller had been released with him last month. “I didn’t realize they weren’t released with me until I got on the plane,” he said.

Bae and Miller had told The Associated Press that they believed their only chance of release was the intervention of a high-ranking government official or a senior U.S. statesman. Previously, former Vice President Al Gore and former President Jimmy Carter had gone to North Korea to take detainees home.

The development does not mean a change in U.S. posture regarding North Korea’s disputed nuclear program, and the North still must show it is serious and ready to abide by commitments toward denuclearization and improved human rights, said a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss national security matters.

The official said there was no quid pro quo involved in the Americans’ release.

The U.S. notified allies of Clapper’s trip to North Korea and alerted members of the congressional leadership once his visit was underway, the official said.

Above photo: AP Photo/Wong Maye-E

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AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee, AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace and Associated Press writer John Seewer in Toledo, Ohio, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Jeffrey Fowle

American Jeffrey Fowle Released From North Korea

by LARA JAKES, AP National Security Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — Jeffrey Fowle, one of three Americans being held in North Korea, has been released, the State Department said Tuesday.

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Fowle was on his way home Tuesday after negotiators left Pyongyang. Fowle is from Miamisburg, Ohio. Harf said the U.S. is still trying to free Americans Matthew Miller and Kenneth Bae.

Associated Press journalists in Pyongyang spotted the U.S. government plane at the capital’s international on Tuesday.

Washington has tried for months to send a high-level envoy to North Korea to seek release of the three men.

Analysts say North Korea has previously used detained Americans as leverage in its standoff with the U.S. over its nuclear and missile programs, a charge that Pyongyang denies.

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Associated Press reporters Eric Talmadge and Maye-E Wong contributed to this report. Photo courtesy of Wong Maye-E/AP. 

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Matthew Miller's trial in North Korea

Mattew Miller Sentenced to 6 Years of Hard Labor in North Korea

by REERA YOO

Matthew Todd Miller, one of the three American detainees currently held in North Korea, was sentenced to six years of hard labor for committing “hostile acts” against the isolated state, as reported by The New York Times.

Miller, 24, was arrested in April for allegedly tearing up his tourist visa and demanding asylum upon arrival, according to the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) at the time. KCNA recently released photos of Miller in the defendant’s seat with eyes downcast and looking pale in his black turtleneck despite it being summer.

According to The Associated Press, which was allowed to attend the trial, Miller was accused of having a “wild ambition” of experiencing North Korean prison life and deliberately violated North Korean law in order to write a firsthand account about human rights conditions in the North.

The prosecution also accused him of falsely claiming to have confidential information about the U.S. military in South Korea on his iPad and iPod, AP reported.

Earlier this month, all three detainees were allowed a brief interview with CNN. Each of them urged Washington to send an envoy to secure their release.

One of the other two American detainees, Kenneth Bae, a Korean American missionary, is currently serving a 15-year sentence of hard labor for allegedly being a part of a Christian plot to overthrow the North Korean regime. He stated in his interview with CNN that he has been spending his time moving between the labor camp and a hospital due to his failing health.

Meanwhile, the other detainee, Jeffrey Fowles, is awaiting trial on charges of leaving a Bible behind during his tourist trip.

The State Department has repeatedly offered to send Robert R. King, its special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, to Pyongyang, but North Korea refused, apparently seeking a government official with higher profile.

The NY Times reported that the Supreme Court in North Korea said Miller waived his right to legal counsel and that he would not be permitted any appeals.

Photo courtesy of Reuters/KCNA

Matthew Miller

NKorea to Hold Trial for American Detainee Matthew Miller on Sept. 14

by REERA YOO

North Korea has announced that it will hold a trial on Sept. 14 for Matthew Miller, one of three American detainees currently held by the communist state, according to Yonhap.

“The Supreme Court of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) decided to hold on September 14 a court trial on American Matthew Todd Miller, now in custody according to the indictment of a relevant institution,” the state-run news agency KCNA said in a brief dispatch. 

Matthew Miller, 24, was arrested in April for allegedly tearing up his tourist visa and seeking asylum upon arrival, according to the North Korean state media reports at the time.  No further details of charges against Miller were given.

Last week, CNN was granted a rare opportunity to interview all three detainees, including Kenneth Bae, 56, and Jeffrey Edward Fowle, 46.  Each detainee urged Washington to send an envoy to the North to help bring them home.

“I deliberately committed my crime,” Miller told CNN’s Will Ripley at a hotel in Pyongyang.  “I have already admitted my guilt and apologized to the government of the DPRK and I have been asking for forgiveness.”

Miller also expressed frustration that “there’s been no movement” from the American government to secure his release and that his repeated pleas for help have gone unanswered.

“My situation is very urgent, that very soon I’m going to trial, and I would directly be sent to prison,” he said, adding that he will not learn of his charges until he goes on trial.  “I think this interview is my final chance to push the American government into helping me.”

Bae, a Korean American Christian missionary, was detained in November 2012 and is currently serving a 15-year sentence at a labor camp for allegedly being a part of a Christian plot to overthrow the North Korean regime.  In his CNN interview, Bae said his health has “been failing” for the past few months, but claims that he has been treated as “humanely as possible.”

Fowle, an American tourist, was accused of leaving a Bible behind during a tourist trip.  Proselytizing is considered a serious crime in North Korea, and Fowle was arrested on May 7 at the airport as he was about to board a flight out of the country.  He said in his interview that he expects his trial to start within a month.

After the CNN interviews were released, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki requested the North Korean government to release the three detainees “out of humanitarian concern.”  Meanwhile, Sweden continues to negotiate with North Korea on behalf of the U.S., which has no diplomatic ties with the isolated country and no embassy in Pyongyang.

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Link Attack: Lydia Ko’s Childlike Joy, Kim Il-sung disappears from NK money, Red Velvet’s controversial video

What we’re reading right now. 

Who is Lydia Ko? Well, on paper, she’s a 17-year-old golf prodigy and the No. 2-ranked player in the world, but what’s she really like? In a recent article, ESPN posits that the young golfer is flying “under the radar,” in part because her agency, IMG, is limiting media obligations and other “distractions” as much as possible. The sports news site turns to Korean American golfer Danielle Kang, Ko’s closest friend on the Tour, for some insights into the golf phenom: “Lydia has that joy of the game that little kids have and that some professionals lose when they turn pro,” says Kang.

Not long after a South Korean soldier allegedly traumatized by bullying in the military shot his own comrades, another disturbing abuse case has come to light.

Korean American activists convene in Washington, D.C., to urge members of Congress to support a bill to increase the number of professional work visas allowed for South Korea.

Do you know your history? The history of fried chicken in Korea, that is! If not, read this.

Controversy in K-pop land: Kotaku reports that “Happiness,” a new single by K-pop band Red Velvet, has upset many viewers who noticed some anti-Japanese slurs in the background—not in the lyrics, but in one scene where old newspaper clippings are laid out. The newspapers carry such headlines as “Japs Hit By Atomic Bomb Equal To 20,000 Tons,” “Bomb Blasts Hiroshima” and “Allies Tell Japs Hirohito Must Obey Our Command.”

Why has Kim Il-sung’s visage disappeared from North Korean money?

It’s hard to believe, but three Americans are currently in North Korean custody. Kenneth Bae, a Korean American missionary, is serving a 15-year sentence of hard labor after being convicted of allegedly planning to “bring down the government” through religious activities. He said in a recent interview that he feels “abandoned” by the U.S. meanwhile, the other two men, Matthew Todd Miller and Jeffrey Edward Fowle, are expected to be tried in the North soon and, in an interview with the Associated Press, asked for the U.S. to secure their release. “The horizon for me is pretty dark,” Fowle told the AP.

church

North Korea Says It Allows Religious Freedom, Lambasts U.S. for ‘Hypocrisy’

by TONY KIM

North Korea staunchly denied the veracity of a U.S. State Department report that criticized the isolated country for its “absolute prohibition of religious organizations” and “harsh punishments for any unauthorized religious activities.”

Though the U.S. report assessing international religious freedom is more than a year old, the North’s state-run news agency just this week launched into a tirade against the U.S. for its “hypocrisy” and insisted that North Korean citizens enjoy constitutional rights to practice religion freely.

The U.S. Department’s International Religious Freedom Report, released in April of 2013, didn’t mince words about what it characterized as North Korea’s oppressive restrictions on religious activities, alleging that citizens affiliated with missionaries are severely punished and even executed.

But in response, North Korea’s government on Tuesday went as far as uploading a video to its state-controlled YouTube channel Uriminzokkiri that profiled the newly renovated Chilgol Church, which Pyongyang claims allows Christians to freely worship. A minister surnamed Baek says in the video, “Many Christians come from South Korea and overseas to come to Chilgol Church. We have become a church that does good deeds for the reconciliation and unification between both Koreas.”

North Korea goes on to state how America has acted as a deterrent to religious freedom because its military bombed over 1,900 churches during the Korean War. It also accused the U.S. of fabricating such allegations in an attempt to damage North Korea’s reputation.

“Innumerable are the crimes committed by the U.S. in violation of religions in different parts of the world,” KCNA, North Korea’s state news agency, reported. “Former U.S. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and other reactionary ruling quarters of the U.S. worked with blood-shot eyes to crack down on Islam and bring down the social systems in Islamic countries under the pretext of ‘war on terror,’ not content with describing Islam as fascism.”

In the same broadcast, the North pledged to severely punish those committing “crimes against the law of the DPRK under the mask of religion.”

This statement seemed to apply to recent cases involving foreign missionaries like Kenneth Bae and John Short, who have been detained in the North for attempting to proselytize within the country. Short, an Australian, was released in March, but Bae, a Korean American Christian missionary from Washington state, is serving a 15-year sentence of hard labor after being convicted of allegedly planning to “bring down the government” through religious activities. He has been detained there for two years.

While North Korea’s constitution apparently guarantees religious freedom, Ji Min Kang, a North Korean escapee and contributor to the U.S.-based website NK News, said it’s quite another story in reality. “The basic principles of North Korean socialism are strongly opposed to and incompatible with religious beliefs,” he wrote in an article for NK News.

Kang goes on to state that while the presence of internationally prevalent religions like Islam and Christianity is very limited, folk religion and fortune telling are ingrained into their culture. Despite limited effort through propaganda to discourage fortune-telling activities, they are still very popular and even rumored to have drawn North Korean leaders also to participate.

Kang concludes, however, that although shamanism and folk religion may be prevalent in North Korea’s society, the one religion that citizens are obligated to follow is the ideology of the nation’s founder, Kim Il-Sung.

Photo of Chilgol Church in North Korea, via NK News.

 

 

 

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Another American Tourist Detained In North Korea

by STEVE HAN

(Photo via Reuters)

North Korea’a state-run media announced Friday that it has detained an American tourist and is investigating him for unspecified acts, the New York Times reported.

The Times identified the detainee as Jeffrey Edward Fowle, who reportedly entered the country on April 29 and, according to the North’s Korean Central News Agency, “perpetrated activities that violated the laws of our republic, which did not fit his stated purpose of visiting our republic as a tourist.” Fowle is the third U.S. citizen being held in the isolated country.

Japan’s Kyodo News Agency said Fowle was part of a tour group and was arrested in mid-May as he was about to leave the country.

U.S. officials are said to be communicating with the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang. The European nation acts as a liaison in these cases because Washington has no official diplomatic ties with the totalitarian regime.

Korean American missionary Kenneth Bae remains in North Korea after 19 months. Pyongyang accused him of attempting to overthrow the government with his religious activities in the country and sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor, despite his serious health issues. “Kenneth Bae must not be forgotten,” the Seattle Times recently wrote in an editorial. Bae is a former Washington resident.

Robert King, Washington’s special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, had two planned trips to meet with North Korean officials over Bae’s case, but Pyongyang canceled both times.

Also still in North Korean custody is Matthew Todd Miller, who was detained in April for what the government deemed improper behavior. While entering North Korea on a tourist visa, Miller reportedly ripped his passport into pieces at the airport and sought political asylum there.

Last year, another American tourist, Merrill E. Newman, a Korean War veteran, was held for a month by the North because of his “war crimes.” The 85-year-old was released, however, because of his age, North Korean officials said.

The U.S. State Department has warned its citizens not to travel to North Korea due to “the risk of arbitrary detention or arrest.” The advisory also says not to “assume that joining a group tour or use of a tour guide will prevent your arrests or detention by North Korean authorities.”