The mother of jailed U.S. missionary Kenneth Bae, who is serving a 15-year sentence for state subversion in North Korea, said that her son remained isolated and was desperate for contact with the outside world a year after he was first detained.
Myunghee Bae, in an op-ed published in the Seattle Times, provided details about her October visit to the Pyongyang hospital where her son, who is diabetic, was recovering from health ailments that saw him lose 50 pounds in three months.
“It pained me to see how starved he was for a connection to home and the outside world, alone and ailing in a foreign prison,” Bae wrote in the piece, published on Sunday. “I tried to reassure him that he was not forgotten.”
“He has been isolated for one year without anybody to talk to other than his guards and doctors. I could not imagine how hard that must have been for Kenneth, who has always been so outgoing and talkative,” she wrote.
Kenneth Bae, 45, was detained Nov. 3, 2012 as he led a tour group through the northern region of the country. The country's Supreme Court said he used his tourism business to form groups aimed at overthrowing the government and sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor in May.
A devout Christian, Bae has acknowledged he conducted religious services in North Korea, which has long been hostile to Westerners advocating religious causes.
Bae's sentence came amid a long series of acrimonious exchanges between North Korea and the United States over Pyongyang's nuclear program. Efforts to secure his release have so far proved unsuccessful.
Myunghee Bae, who was able to see her son three times during her visit to North Korea, wrote that seeing her son dressed in a hospital gown and confined to a small room drove home the reality that he is a prisoner in North Korea, with no clear path as to how to avoid serving another 14 years.
“He reassured me his mind was stable and his medical condition was improving,” she said, adding that her son reads all 150 letters he has received from supporters once a week. “However, it was difficult for me to believe his words.”
The family is collecting online signatures for a petition to U.S. President Barack Obama requesting the administration “pursue every course of possible action” to secure Bae's release.