Korean-American Christian missionary Kenneth Bae spent 735 days in a North Korean prison camp after being sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in 2013 for committing “hostile acts” against the state.
Bae, who ran a tour company in North Korea, was released in 2014 and has written a memoir entitled “Not Forgotten” wherein he details his detention. He has also given a number of interviews and made public appearances wherein he has said that North Korea used him as a “negotiating tool” and called some North Koreans “brainwashed.”
He also wrote that authorities in North Korea thought he was attempting to overthrow the regime by worshipping Jesus.
In his first live interview since his 2014 release, Bae told CNN, “Along the way, I found my way adjusting to life in the North Korean prison, just depending on God.”
But the North Korean government is not reacting well to Bae’s portrayal of the country. Reuters reported that the state-run KCNA news agency said:
“As long as Kenneth Bae continues his babbling, we will not proceed with any compromise or negotiations with the United States on the subject of American criminals, and there will certainly not be any such thing as humanitarian action…If Bae continues, U.S. criminals held in our country will be in the pitiful state of never being able to set foot in their homeland once again.
Two U.S. citizens are currently being held in North Korean prison camps. Otto Warmbier, a 21-year-old U.Va student, was sentenced in March to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a Kim Jong Il propaganda banner. Kim Dong Chul, also a Korean-American missionary, was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor for espionage and subversion.
Open Doors USA, an organization serving persecuted Christians worldwide, says some 50,000-70,000 Christians are currently suffering torture in North Korean labor camps. North Korea, which is officially an atheist state, claimed Bae was part of a Christian plot to overthrow the regime, according to CNN. It is illegal to practice Christianity there, and the country has topped Open Doors USA’s World Watch list for the 14th consecutive year of countries in which Christians face the highest levels of persecution.
But it was precisely Bae’s faith, though, that helped him make it through those 735 days of physical and verbal torment until his release.
“One thing I want people to take away from reading the book is God’s faithfulness,” Bae told CNN. “After I was released, I was reminded that God has not forgotten the people of North Korea.”