Kenneth Bae and his daughter
Kenneth Bae and his daughter

Courtesy Free Kenneth Bae website

North Korea has rescinded its invitation to a special U.S. envoy who had planned to visit Pyongyang with hopes of bringing jailed American Kenneth Bae home.

“We are surprised and disappointed” at the decision, according to a statement released Friday by U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf. “We have sought clarification from the DPRK about its decision and have made every effort so that Ambassador King’s trip could continue as planned or take place at a later date.”

Robert King, the US Special Envoy for North Korean rights, had planned to seek pardon for Bae. The Korean American was arrested in the North Korean city Rajin-Sonbong, one of North Korea’s special economic zones for foreign investors, on November 12, 2012. Ten months after his arrest, Bae is in poor health.

At the time of his arrest, Bae was leading a tourist group in Rajin-Sonbong. His sudden detention surprised his relatives and others who know him; they describe Bae as a committed Christian who wanted to help the North Korean people.

The North Korean prosecutors have charged the Korean American with planning an anti-North Korean, religious coup d’etat, setting up bases in China for the purpose of toppling the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, encouraging North Korean citizens to bring down the government and conducting a malignant smear campaign.

On April 30th 2013, he was sentenced to fifteen years hard labor.

His family, who at first kept quiet hoping for a diplomatic resolution, then publicly announced in mid-August that Bae had been moved from the prison camp to a hospital, because his health had quickly deteriorated. He’s reported to have lost over fifty pounds and to suffer several health problems: diabetes, high blood pressure, a fatty liver and a back problem.

“We remain gravely concerned about Mr. Bae’s health and we continue to urge the DPRK authorities to grant Mr. Bae special amnesty and immediate release on humanitarian grounds,” state department spokeswoman Harf said in the prepared statement.

It is not clear what the North Korean government might have wanted in exchange for Bae. North Korea has explicitly said that Bae is not a bargaining chip, but North Korea watchers say they find this difficult to believe. A ‘Free Kenneth Bae’ Facebook page and campaigning website have been set up.