By BosNewsLife Asia Service
SEOUL/PYONGYANG/SEATTLE (BosNewsLife)-- An American Christian missionary imprisoned in North Korea is in "deteriorating health" and has been moved from a prison labor camp to a hospital, his family said in comments monitored by BosNewsLife Sunday, August 11.
Kenneth Bae, who was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for trying to overthrow the North Korean government, is suffering from several ailments including an enlarged heart and chronic diabetes as well as back and leg pain, according to his sister.
Bae's sister Terri Chung spoke at Saturday's prayer meeting for the missionary at her evangelical Quest Church in the U.S. city of Seattle.
Before Saturday's service began, people were seen helping to light 281 candles to represent the number of days the 45-year-old husband and father of three has spent detained in North Korea.
Soon after, Chung told some 100 friends, supporters and family members that she learned of her brother's hospitalization from the Swedish ambassador to North Korea, who visited Bae on Friday, August 9.
ONLY FOREIGN VISITOR
The ambassador met Bae several times since his detention as the only foreign visitor, Chung said.
Bae, who also worked as a tour guide, was arrested in early November in Rason, a special economic zone in North Korea's far northeastern region bordering China and Russia, North Korea said.
At the emotionally charged gathering, Chung recalled that her brother had until recently been held at a prison for foreigners and put to work plowing and planting fields.
She also read from a letter sent by Bae to his supporters written on June 13, in which he encouraged them to push his case with American officials. "The only way I can be free to return home is by obtaining amnesty," Bae wrote. "In order for that to happen it will take more active efforts from the U.S. government side."
Bae said earlier in his first-ever video from the prison camp that he remains patient. "Although my health is not good, I am being patient and coping well," the Christian stressed. "And I hope that with the help of the North Korean government and the United States, I will be released soon," he added in the footage, which was released in July by Chosun Sinbo, a Tokyo-based North Korean group.
WEARING PRISON UNIFORM
In the video, the devoted believer can be seen kneeling on the ground while wearing a prison uniform. A visibly thinner Bae revealed July 4 is his father’s 70th birthday.
Last month Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico and one of America's key experts on North Korea, appealed for the U.S. to keep attention on Bae.
"Somehow, the cries for his release ... [have] not been as strong as other detainees. ... I don’t want you all to forget about Kenneth Bae,” Richardson said.
Analysts say U.S. efforts have been complicated as North Korea has in the past used the release of high-profile American prisoners as a means of garnering a form of prestige or acceptance by portraying visiting dignitaries as paying homage to the country and its leader.
The State Department has demanded Bae's immediate release on "humanitarian grounds" but so far resisted sending high-profile envoys to negotiate, as it has done in the past.
NEGOTIATING PLANS DENIED
Recent reports that former American President Jimmy Carter was set to visit North Korea to negotiate for Bae were ultimately denied as false.
An Internet petition urging U.S. President Barack Obama to secure "Special Amnesty" for Bae has garnered thousands of signatures however.
The case has underscored wider concerns over the treatment of Christians in North Korea.
At least 100,000 or more Christians are languishing in camps for their refusal to worship nation founder Kim Il-Sung's cult, according to rights investigators.
The ideology, known as Juche, largely resembles a religion or cult, and refugees’ accounts say those who oppose it are dealt with severely, often ending up in prison camps, according to observers who visited the isolated, Communist-run country.
North Korea's autocratic leader Kim Jong-Un has done little to ease their suffering, activists say, while also raising tensions with the West after threatening earlier this year to restart all nuclear facilities for both military use and electricity. (With additional reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos).
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since 2004).
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