The U.S. State Department has said that it will send a special envoy to North Korea in hopes of freeing Kenneth Bae, an imprisoned U.S. Christians who was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, supposedly for plots he had made against the government.
The State Department announced in a press release on Tuesday that it is sending Ambassador Robert King, the president's special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, who will travel to Pyongyang on Friday.
Bae's family in the US has pleaded for his release, sharing that he has a number of health problems that are worsening. His sister, Terri Chung, said earlier this month that he is being forced to work in the fields for eight hours each day six days a week, and she does not know how long he will last.
North Korea has accused Bae, a father of three who worked as a tour guide, of "serious crimes" including setting up bases in China with the aim of bringing down the North Korean government, CNN reported. Chung, on the other hand, has argued that his Christian faith might have been the real reason he was targeted by officials.
"His personal convictions and his beliefs as a Christian may have been deemed as, I don't know, perhaps hostile acts, but all I know is that he only had the best of intentions to help the people," Chung said. "Maybe he was a little bit overzealous, I'm not sure."
Bae, who struggles with diabetes, high blood pressure, fatty liver and a back problem, said in a video shared by CNN:
"I was hoping that my problem would be worked out by end of June. So my hope is that North Korea will forgive, and the U.S. will try harder to get me out speedily. I'm asking for their help."
King is expected to ask North Korean officials to grant Bae special amnesty on humanitarian grounds "so that he can be reunited with his family and seek medical treatment."
"We remain deeply concerned about the health and welfare of Kenneth Bae, the American citizen currently detained in North Korea," the State Department's statement read. "We urge the government of North Korea to grant special clemency to Mr. Bae immediately and allow him to return home with Ambassador King."
"All I know is my brother is a good man," Chung added. "He has a huge heart to help people in the nation of North Korea."
"I believe the U.S. government wants to see this American home. But when it's your family member, nothing is enough until he's home."