SEOUL, South Korea — Ever since his arrest in North Korea 11 months ago, the world has feared the fate of Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae.
The 45-year-old pastor is serving a 15-year hard labor sentence on the charge that he tried to “overthrow” the state. Two months ago, Bae was hospitalized thanks to his failing health, including diabetes and an enlarged heart.
This week, there was some reason to hope. Bae’s elderly mother, Myunghee Bae, landed in North Korea Friday to visit her son, and plans to stay for five days. She was granted access to the isolated country after pleading with authorities, she said in a video released the same day she arrived.
That could be good news for Bae, who hasn’t had much luck receiving foreign visitors during his sentence.
In August, North Korea canceled a trip at the last minute by Robert King, the US envoy for North Korean human rights issues, who was to negotiate his release. Days later, retired basketball star Dennis Rodman visited the reclusive state, but apparently didn’t use his celebrity leverage to discuss Bae’s imprisonment in his private meeting with Kim Jong Un.
That means Bae hasn’t been dealt a hand as good as the other six Americans who have been detained in North Korea at various times since 2009. All of them have were released relatively quickly without serving out their sentences, sometimes following visits from high-profile figures like former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
For Bae, the possibility of a VIP visit looks increasingly grim. In July, a spokesman for Carter denied rumors that he’d visit North Korea.
With time passing and not much headway on the diplomatic front, Bae has served more time than any American prisoner in North Korea in recent memory. At least his health is getting better, his mother told Japan’s Kyodo news agency after seeing him at the hospital in Pyongyang.