The Current

'I was known as Prisoner 103:' Kenneth Bae on North Korea labour camp

Korean-American pastor shares his story of imprisonment — 735 days of hard labour.
Kenneth Bae, an American tour guide and missionary, has written a book about his experience of 735 days in captivity in a North Korean prison. (Wong Maye-E/ Associated Press)
Listen24:11

Read story transcript

Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American missionary, who spent 735 days as a prisoner in North Korea, says it was his faith in God that kept him going.

"They let me keep my bible. That really helped for me to sustain myself," Bae tells The Current, sharing the story of his imprisonment in his book, Not Forgotten: The True Story of My Imprisonment in North Korea.

I was known as Prisoner 103. - Kenneth Bae

He was detained in 2012 while leading a tour group and then sentenced to 15 years of hard labour for "hostile acts" against the state. Two years later, a high-level U.S. envoy negotiated his release.

The longest-held U.S. citizen detained in North Korea since the Korean War talks about how he was placed in a specialized labour camp for foreigners.

Kenneth Bae hugs his mother Myunghee Bae after arriving Nov. 8, 2014, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., after his release. (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

"I was the only prisoner in the whole camp...and at least 30 guards. I received a lot of attention from every single one of them."

Working from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., six days a week of hard labour, Bae recalls suffering from malnutrition and how he was forced to answer to one name.

"I was known as Prisoner 103. That was my name from that moment on."

Bae says Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim, 61, who's serving a life sentence in a North Korean jail, was put in the same prison he was in. He recognized the two guards accompanying Lim in a CNN interview.

The Canadian government, he believes, may be able to "sit down and talk" with North Korea and work out a way to let Lim go under a humanitarian basis.

This segment was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal.