The family of a male American tourist, which is of Korean-American descent, is saying that he has been detained by N. Korean authorities for over a month after what was only supposed to be a 5-day visit into the reclusive state.
Kenneth Bae, 44, was part of a group containing 5 tourists who visited the northeast city of Rajin, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said. The group entered North Korea on November 3rd for what was only to be a five-day visit to help poor children.
“What we know is that he is a person who wants to help poor children, kotjebis (homeless children), and he took pictures of them to support them later,” said Do Hee-youn, a North Korean human rights activist and head of the Citizens’ Coalition for Human Rights of Abductees and North Korean Refugees.
Due to North Korea’s economy being crippled by sanctions placed against them and a 1990’s famine many of the people and children there live in poverty and are starving.
It was impossible to confirm Bae’s arrest in one of the world’s most secretive states and there has been no formal announcement on North Korean media. However, some sources say that Bae was detained after he was found with a computer that contained images of North Korea executing defectors and dissidents on its hard drive, but the speculation has not been confirmed.
Bae’s mother, Myung Bae, has been attending a Korean church in Washington Stae since Wednesday, after learning of her son’s detention, praying for his release.
“She just learned that he had been detained,” pastor Chan Song of the Korean Emmanuel Church in the Seattle suburb of Lynnwood told Reuters. “She’s scared. … She doesn’t know how he was detained.”
The office of state Senator Paull Shin, a Korean-American whose district includes parts of Lynnwood, was trying to find out more but was not in contact with the family, legislative assistant Jeff King told Reuters.
The Swedish Embassy in Seoul did not immediately respond to an inquiry about whether it was aware of the arrest. Similarly, the press officer at the Swedish Embassy in Beijing declined comment when contacted by NBC News.
Sweden handles the affairs of U.S. citizens in North Korea because Washington does not have diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.