It has been an agonizing nine months for Terri Chung, hoping and praying for the release of her brother from North Korean detention. She wants to speak out for him, but in the delicate world of diplomacy, that’s easier said than done.
“We don’t want to do anything that could endanger his chances of getting out,” she said from her mother’s Lynnwood home.
Kenneth Bae is now nearly three months into a 15-year sentence in a North Korean prison camp for allegedly "committing hostile acts" against the communist regime last year.
“You feel like you're holding your breath, and after a while you feel like you're going to sink and the water closes in on you,” said Chung.
The family received a stack of letters from Bae last week, but they can't read them to reporters. Phone calls can't be discussed. It all puts the family in an impossible diplomatic box. They’re desperate for help, but unable to even proclaim Bae's innocence for fear of upsetting Pyongyang.
When asked if she believes her brother is a political pawn, Chung will only respond, “It's not really my place to say.”
A video of Bae released by the North Korean government shows Bae looking nervous and distant. He turns 45 August 1st. Bae is diabetic and told his family he may be going blind because of his condition.
“He's asking us directly, ‘My health is failing. I need help,’” said Chung. “There is a new note of desperation.”
In previous tangles with North Korea, high profile politicians like former president Bill Clinton have won the release of celebrity journalists. But Kenneth Bae is no celebrity. He’s just a Lynnwood business man. The family says help from local politicians has been lacking.
“We've been alone in this struggle,” said Chung. “We're the little people, an ordinary American family with no real connections.”
Reached for comment in Washington, D.C., a representative for Congressman Rick Larsen told KING 5 News, “We are in contact with the Bae family and State Department. We support the State Department’s calls for special amnesty and we will continue to work for Mr. Bae’s release.”
While she struggles to speak for her brother, Terri Chung can still speak to him, albeit through e-mails scanned by government officials in both America and North Korea.
“Just know there are many people who don’t even know you who care deeply for you, and who want to see you back home,” she wrote. “Don’t give up hope.”
Bae's family is planning a public prayer vigil for 7 p.m. on Saturday, August 10th at Quest Church in Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood. You can also sign a petition for his release HERE.