NORTH KOREA: Former prisoner Kenneth Bae publishes book

Kenneth Bae has published a book about his imprisonment in North Korea.

Kenneth Bae (47), a missionary from Washington State, has written about his imprisonment in a book, “Not Forgotten,” which has just been published in the US and will be released for sale in Ireland and the UK in June. The book is a testimony to Kenneth’s belief that God protected him during the two years he spent in detention in North Korea. He was released on 8 November 2014 and was the longest-held US citizen in North Korea since the Korean War.

Kenneth writes that his captors interrogated him for up to 15 hours a day for the first four weeks of his incarceration and yelled with impatience until he wrote a confession to their liking. They told him that nobody from America cared enough to negotiate his freedom and that he would most likely serve the entire 15-year sentence of hard labour.

The first month of captivity, he says, was among the most difficult: “I felt like an insect, tangled in the spider web. Every time I moved it got messier, with no way out.” He says he was questioned “from eight in the morning until ten or eleven o’clock at night, every day for four weeks. It was very intense.”

His treatment improved after he wrote a confession that satisfied his interrogators, in which he described himself as a terrorist who had plotted to overthrow the government. He writes that his chief prosecutor told him he was “the most dangerous American criminal apprehended in the sixty years since the Korean War“.

Later in his imprisonment, the authorities permitted Kenneth to read his Bible and pray, and he still carries the Bible he was allowed to keep. He writes that, while his prison cell was Spartan and his treatment harsh, he was far better off than North Korean prisoners and was never beaten. His penal camp was apparently meant only for foreigners, and he never saw another prisoner. Kenneth says his treatment revealed a softer approach to foreign citizens by the North Korean authorities, concerned about their image abroad.

He was allowed to read hundreds of letters emailed from the US by his family and friends, and his mother was even permitted to visit him in the hospital.

What is most surprising is the access Kenneth Bae had to messages from his family,” said Bill Richardson, a former diplomat who has visited North Korea to negotiate the release of imprisoned Americans, and who wrote the foreword to the book.

Nevertheless, Kenneth’s treatment was harsh, and the labour (on a soyabean farm) was so hard that he lost a lot of weight. He worked from 8 am to 6 pm in the fields, carrying rocks and shovelling coal.

During his imprisonment, Kenneth was hospitalised three times for health problems including diabetes, an enlarged heart and back pain. The North Korean authorities, he said, wanted to charge him €600 euros per night spent in hospital. They billed him about $300,000 (approximately €260,000) for hospital expenses as one of the conditions for release, but apparently dropped that demand. He says the bill was never paid, and writes: “I told them, ‚ÄòI’m a missionary; I don’t have that kind of money.'”

Kenneth recalls that when he realised he was about to be released, a prosecutor whom he had nicknamed Mr Disappointment for repeatedly predicting he would never leave, told him he had done so with good intent, saying: “I did not want you to get your hopes up only to have them crushed.”

Kenneth was released with another American, Matthew Todd Miller, in what the North Korean authorities described as a magnanimous gesture by their leader, Kim Jong-Un. They were flown home on a US government jet by James Clapper, the US director of national intelligence who had visited Pyongyang to secure their release, with a letter from President Barack Obama to Kim Jong-Un.


Kenneth is a naturalised American originally from South Korea. He is a licensed preacher in the Presbyterian Church in America, an ordained Southern Baptist pastor, and has been working with Youth With A Mission since 2005. Kenneth has three children, aged eighteen to twenty-five. He moved to China in 2005 with his family and established a travel business that specialised in tours of North Korea. His motive was to do missionary work, which is illegal in North Korea, and he was known to feed North Korean orphans.

Kenneth was arrested in November 2012 in the special economic zone of Rason, while leading an officially permitted tour from China. The North Korean authorities discovered his real purpose by examining files in a computer hard drive that he said he inadvertently left in his luggage.

He was sentenced in April 2013 over “hostile acts to bring down the government” – the authorities claimed he was part of a Christian plot to overthrow the regime.

(Amazon, CNN, New York Times)