Kenneth Bae, who had been detained in North Korea’s labor camps for the last two years, was released on Saturday, along with Matthew Todd Miller. With the release of these two Americans, there are now no more Americans in captivity in North Korea.
“We have been waiting for and praying for this day for two years,” Terri Chung, Bae’s sister, said in a statement. “This ordeal has been excruciating for the family, but we are filled with joy right now.”
James Clapper, the director of national intelligence in the U.S., was sent to Pyongyang to bring the two remaining Americans home. Jeffrey Fowle, another American who was also detained, was released last month. The exact reasons for Fowle’s earlier release and the release of the two remaining Americans at this point in time is uncertain, but the government denies that they had given anything to the North Korean government in exchange for the Americans’ release.
There are speculations that a reason North Korea is suddenly releasing the Americans is to perhaps better its image. The U.N. had been placing sanctions on North Korea for its violations of human rights, and Kim Jong Un has been warned of being prosecuted for crimes against humanity.
“The North Koreans seem to be obsessed over the human rights issue,” Sue Mi Terry, a former intelligence analyst, told CBS News. “This human rights thing is showing itself to be an unexpected leverage for the U.S.”
Bae, who regularly went in and out of North Korea as a tour guide, was arrested and detained on accusations for having “hostile plans” against the government. His Christian faith was likely one of the main reasons for his arrest, as North Korea is known to be one of the nations in which religious persecution is the most severe.
Bae’s captivity and the process of advocating for his release was especially highlighted by the media due to his family’s and supporters’ active efforts to campaign and advocate for him. U.S. Senator Patty Murray, who helped Bae’s family and worked with them and the State Department, described their efforts in a statement:
“I am so thrilled that Kenneth Bae has finally been released from North Korea along with Matthew Todd Miller. It has been a long two years for Kenneth’s family, but they never stopped fighting for him, and they never lost faith that this day would come. Kenneth’s family has spent the last two years doing everything they could to hasten this moment and see their brother, son, father, and husband once again. Kenneth’s sister Terri, in particular, has made it her personal mission to bring her brother back and her powerful voice and hard work truly made this day possible. This is a great day for Kenneth’s family, friends, and all of us in Washington state who have worked, hoped, and prayed for Kenneth’s return over the last two years.”
“We believe that God is with people who endure hardship, and that He never leaves them,” Chung wrote on the “Free Kenneth Now” Facebook page. “It is with great joy and with thankfulness to God to see Kenneth released. Our family could not have been sustained without the knowledge that Kenneth was in God’s care, when it seemed we were helpless to do anything."