North Korea Reveals American Was Sentenced to 15 Years Hard Labor for Missionary Work

ICC Note: Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American and devout Christian, was arrested in North Korea in April for unspecified crimes. It has now been revealed by an official North Korean news source that Bae was involved in “covert” missionary activities and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. For the North Korean regime, spreading Christianity amounts to treason and many North Koreans have faced life imprisonment or even execution when accused of this crime. It is uncertain what, if anything, the U.S. can do to try to secure Bae’s release. 

5/14/2013 North Korea (gawker.com) – When North Korea announced it had sentenced imprisoned American tour operator Kenneth Bae to 15 years hard labor earlier this month, it gave no details about his crime other than he had attempted to “overthrow” the North Korean government. But now North Korea has presented more details about Bae’s crime: They say he smuggled anti-government propaganda into the country, and preached the overthrow of regime as part of a Christian missionary-backed plan called “Operation Jericho.”

The report from the Korean Central News Agency paints Bae, a devout Christian, as the leader of a plot to undermine the government called “Operation Jericho,” according to a translation by NKnews.org. Operation Jericho was launched in 2006 by Youth With a Mission (YWAM), an international evangelical Christian organization Bae belonged to, according to KCNA. It consisted of mobilizing 250 of Bae’s “followers” to infiltrate an area of North Korea near the border and create an “anti-government coalition.” They would base their operation in a hotel.

KCNA also says Bae smuggled in “propaganda materials.” This included a copy of the National Geographic documentary “Don’t Tell My Mother I’m In North Korea,” in which the reporter Diego Bunuel visits North Korea, and a book about persecution in North korea, according to NKNews.

How much of this is true? It’s clear that Bae was a Christian minister with Youth With a Mission, and there’s evidence to suggest he was using his tour agency, Nation Tours, as a front to sneak Christian missionaries into the country. NKNews dug up a video of a sermon in which Bae preached to a Korean congregation in the U.S., telling them that “I knew that Jesus wanted me to be a ‘channel’ to the North.” Bae was dispatched to China by YWAM, and the tour operation was likely a front for some kind of missionary work.

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