(Photo: Reuters video screencap)
Christian missionary Kenneth Bae, who has now been imprisoned at a labor camp in North Korea for over a year, has become the longest-serving American detainee there since the end of the Korean War in 1953, activists have said.
"We marked with great sadness the one-year anniversary of Kenneth Bae's detainment," said Ryan Morgan, regional manager for East Asia for International Christian Concern (ICC).
"Kenneth has now been held longer by the North Korean regime than any other known U.S. citizen," Morgan added to BosNewsLife in a statement. "Our prayers are with his family during this incredibly difficult time and we again renew our call for his release to the North Korean authorities."
Bae, who was a U.S. Christian missionary based in China who led tours into North Korea, was arrested in the city of Rajin on November 3, 2012, supposedly for plots he had made against the government. He was later sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
Christian groups say there are at least another 100,000 Christians trapped in the country's harsh prison camps, where prisoners face torture, forced labor and possible execution. In North Korea, practicing Christianity is illegal.
Bae's family in America has pleaded for his release, and although the U.S. State department sent in August Ambassador Robert King, the president's special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, to travel to Pyongyang with hopes of negotiating his freedom, the North Korean government has so far refused to comply.
"My heart ached to see my son in a hospital gown, confined to a small room. It suddenly became very real that he was actually a prisoner in North Korea. I held his hand and started to ask the same question over and over, 'How's your condition?' He reassured me his mind was stable and his medical condition was improving," Myunghee Bae, Kenneth's mother, wrote in a special to The Seattle Times regarding her son's one year anniversary in prison. "However, it was difficult for me to believe his words."
The mother added that Bae's health failed after three months of hard labor at the prison camp, and she shared fears of what will happen if he is forced to serve the full 15-year sentence there.
"I have written letters, spoken to media and done whatever I could do to be heard. But it hasn't been enough," she continued, and asked readers to sign a petition for her son's release.
Myunghee Bae, who was able to pay her son a visit at a Pyongyang hospital where he was recovering from health ailments in October, noted that he had lost 50 pounds in the last three months.
"No one should ever face imprisonment simply because of their religious beliefs, yet thousands upon thousands of men, women, and children are living in what has been described as hell on earth simply because they choose to be Christian," added ICC's Morgan.