For those of you who are unfamiliar with this story, here's a little background info:


An American has been sentenced to 15 years hard labour in North Korea after entering the country as a tourist.

Kenneth Bae, also known by his South Korean birth name Pae Jun-ho, was tried on Tuesday for anti-government crimes. The state news agency made a statement today announcing his  sentence.

Mr Bae, 44, a tour company director, was arrested in November last year after entering North Korea with four other tourists for a five-day trip, and has been held since at an undisclosed location. He was convicted and sentenced for charges of “hostile acts” against the country.

Mr Bae, who is married with children, is a committed Christian and is thought to have used his trips for humanitarian work.

The move comes amid high tensions between North Korea and the US, after Pyongyang’s third nuclear test.

North Korean media said last week that Mr Bae had admitted the charges including attempting to overthrow the government. Although born in South Korea, Mr Bae is an American citizen and has spent much of his life in the US. South Korean activists say he might have been arrested for taking photos of starving children in North Korea. - The Guardian, 5/2/13

Now here's some more insight on this case:


Bae Might Have Been Helping and Photographing North Korean Children. "It is not uncommon, however, for Korean-Americans to run missionary operations in or around the Sino-North Korean border region," reports the team from NK News. They mention that on Bae's Facebook page (which has since been shut down) he had links to the Joseph Connection, an Ohio-based, not-for-profit Christian missionary program. "Kenneth is a personal friend, I’ve known him for about 3 years ... He does not work [for] The Joseph Connection," John Geissler, who runs the Joseph Connection, told NK News. "Nations Tours was a tour agency that I used to book my group into North Korea. It was a tour agency promoting cross-cultural experiences," he added.  We tried looking up the Joseph Connection based on its tax ID on file and could not find its tax filings or 990 forms online.

Though, Geissler makes it clear that Bae was not part of The Joseph Connection, Bae had a reputation for helping children. "What we know is that he [Bae] is a person who wants to help poor children, kotjebis (homeless children), and he took pictures of them to support them later,"Do Hee-youn, a North Korean human rights activist and head of the Citizens' Coalition for Human Rights of Abductees and North Korean Refugees told NBC News in December.

And to that, Rajin, the port city where Bae was arrested is also significant. Rajin is part of a region called Rason. "Rason borders China’s Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, where there already exists a thriving underground Christian missionary presence," Matt Reichel, director of the Pyongyang Project, told NK News. According to friends interviewed in Tomlinson's piece in The Oregonian, Bae was a "devout Christian."

But Bae Can't Get Arrested for Taking Pictures of Starving Children, Can He? According to the South Korean Kookmin Ilbo newspaper (via The New York Times), and unidentified source said that Bae was arrested after North Korean officials found a hard disk belonging to Bae which contained sensitive information about the Country. "Mr. Do said that Mr. Bae might have taken pictures of North Korean orphans he wanted to help and that the authorities might have seen that as an act of propaganda against the North," reported the New York Times's Choe Sang-Hun in December, and yes that the same Mr. Do, cited by NBC News.

But, according to an analysis by the AAFC/France-North Korea Friendship Association that doesn't make sense. Now, yes, this a pro-North Korea group based in France. But as North Korean expert Adam Cathcart explains, it's worth a read. "In any event, the following story amounts to a 'new source' with regard to the present case and at the very least should causes a rethink of whether or not Kenneth Bae will ever be seen again ..." Cathcart writes.

As Cathcart notes, read this with whatever lens you have, and remember keep your skepticism ready. Here are the three juiciest bits, the first explaining that the punishment doesn't fit the crime

If Bae’s goal was to help orphanages, doing so in conjunction with the North Korean authorities for the final delivery of aid, as other NGOs present in the country do, such pictures would then have been taken with the full knowledge of Bae’s North Korean guides. Never has such a situation before led to the arrest of a foreign visitor to North Korea. (Indeed, the heaviest sanction is that the pictures are erased at the request of the North Koreans.)

And perhaps hinting that the photos were taken in secret:

However, had the photos been taken in secret [prise en cachette], then they could have had a purpose other than humanitarian action. But a single snapshot usually does not justify taking the [extreme] measure of arresting the photographer: the penalty would be a simple expulsion, after the confiscation of equipment and the offending photos.

And finally, the timing of Bae's arrest. The narrative that's been thrown out was that Bae was arrested and parlayed into an international bargaining chip. The "Mr. Cheong" referred to is the AP's source on the subject, a military analyst based in South Korea. The AP's story has the timestamp of December 21 and the North Korean rocket launch happened on December 12:

The problem is that it does not coincide with the dates of the arrest of Mr. Bae on November 3, an event which occurred well before the announcement of the rocket Unha-3, an event which, Mr. Cheong takes after his government in asserting, will lead to new sanctions that will require the assent of China in the Security Council.
For Cheong's analysis to make sense, the AAFC argues, North Korea would have known, as it was arresting Bae that it was going to launch a rocket, start an international brouhaha, have a successful nuclear test, and then threaten nuclear war. Because North Korea is North Korea, that's not entirely out of the question. But it does put a curious wrinkle into the timeline of Bae's arrest and detainment.
- The Atlantic, 5/2/13

Bae attended the University of Oregon before dropping out to support his family.  Senator jeff Merkley (D. OR) has called for Bae's immediate release:


Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley says he hopes to help get Bae released.

Merkley: “I talked with the country desk officer who is handling the situation. She’s been up through the night. They’re working very long hours. They’re utilizing their assets on the ground in North Korea. And we‘re going to stay in very close contact. Back to the original goal – we want to bring him home safe.”

Senator Merkley says he’s not advising a course of action until he receives a briefing next week. - Northwest Public Radio, 5/3/13

Merkley's colleague, Senator Ron Wyden (D. OR), is also calling for Bae's release:


A statement from Senator Ron Wyden condemns Bae's sentence as "what appears to be yet another attempt to get the international community's attention."

Some diplomacy experts argue against sending high-level officials to negotiate with North Korea, because it would legitimize the country's tactics.

Kenneth Bae is from the Seattle area, but he'd been working in China before his arrest last fall. - The Daily Astorian, 5/3/13

If you'd like to get more information, please contact Merkley and Wyden's offices for more details:

Merkley: (202) 224-3753

Wyden: (202) 224-5244

And thought this is off topic, Merkley has recently teamed up with Democracy For America to renew the call for real filibuster reform:

Friends –

We agree the Senate’s broken. And we agree abuse Republican abuse of the silent filibuster is the cause.

So how can we fix it?

Here’s my answer: We take action. We grow our massive grassroots movement, and make Washington D.C. listen.

So far, 80,669 people have signed our petition, calling on the Senate to reopen filibuster reform.

Please join me and the Democracy for America community: Sign our petition at FixTheFilibuster.com and let’s finally get the Senate back to work;


The press is already taking notice of how momentum’s growing for filibuster reform. As Talking Points Memo put it: “Jeff Merkley Escalates Push For Filibuster Reform.”

We need everyone involved if we’re going to fix the filibuster. We can’t win this fight without you.

Go to FixTheFilibuster.com right now – join me and the Democracy for America community in calling on the Senate to reopen filibuster reform:


This is a tough fight. But we can win it.

Senator Jeff Merkley

You can sign Merkley's petition here:


Originally posted to pdc on Fri May 03, 2013 at 03:43 PM PDT.

Also republished by Koscadia, PDX Metro, The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party, and Daily Kos Oregon.

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