Kenneth Bae was arrested for plotting “Operation Jericho”

KCNA also lists "propaganda materials" held by Bae, including National Geographic film
May 9th, 2013

SEOUL – Detained American Kenneth Bae was arrested for carrying “propaganda materials” into North Korea, including a copy of a 2007 National Geographic documentary called “Don’t tell my mother I’m in North Korea,’ North Korean state media reported early Friday morning.

The article, released by the KCNA, identified Bae as being a Youth With a Mission (YWAM) missionary. Bae was dispatched to China by the evangelical organization in April 2006, the article said, and was head of a YWAM mission known as “Operation Jericho.”

“When last in America and South Korea, Kenneth Bae went to several churches and preached about the need for North Korea’s immediate collapse,” the article quotes a North Korean spokesperson as saying.

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“I knew that Jesus wanted me to be a ‘channel’ to the North,” Bae said during a sermon he delivered to a Korean congregation gathered at a U.S. church in December 2011. NK News broke the news that Bae was a YWAM missionary after a investigation led to the discovery of the above video footage on the church website.


“For the last six years,” North Korea alleges, “Kenneth Bae avoided the eyes of the Chinese security services and sought to gather support from various groups, such as as our own expatriate community, the Chinese and Westerners.”

North Korea claims Bae had a following of “1500 people,” and worked with other South Korean missionaries to create an “anti-government coalition.”

“Operation Jericho” attempted to mobilize 250 of Bae’s “followers” to enter Rason, a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) that borders China, and base themselves from the Rajin Hotel, North Korea claims.

Jericho is a biblical reference to a city that was closed to the outside. “No one went out and no one came in,” the story says. According to the bible, God “orders “Joshua to lead men around the city,” and “sound trumpets,” after which “the wall of the city will collapse.”

Neon light from the sign of a barber shop in Rajin, North Korea, reflects against the side of a drab building (Picture: NK News)

Neon light from the sign of a barber shop in Rajin, North Korea, reflects against the side of a drab building (Picture: NK News)


The Korean article, which contains substantially more information than its English-language translation, specifically lists what “propaganda materials” Bae was allegedly carrying into North Korea, including a 2007 National Geographic documentary called “Don’t tell my mother that I am in North Korea.”

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The documentary follows filmmaker Diego Buñuel who enters North Korea as a tourist and secretly records his trip. In one scene, Buñuel films in a state-approved North Korean church.

“I remember hearing Pope John Paul II call communism unjust and totalitarian, so when I found out there were three catholic churches in Pyongyang, I couldn’t resist. I had to see for my own,” Buñuel says in the film.

“It is written right in our constitution that everyone is free to believe in god, any god,” a member of the state-approved church says.

The KCNA article also claims Bae had a video called “1.5 billion in China and North Korea, the world’s last closed nations [15억중국,그리고 지구상 마지막페쇄국 북한].” Nothing could be found on the title following preliminary digging by team NK News.

Window from an open window moves a curtain in a hotel room in Rajin, North Korea. (Picture: NK News)

Breeze from an open window moves a curtain in a hotel room in Rajin, North Korea. (Picture: NK News)


Bae’s trial was held in secret on April 30, whereupon a North Korean court sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor.

“When faced with the reality of his crimes, and on the grounds that evidence and witness testimonies were objectively proven, Kenneth bae admitted the full extent of his crimes during the trial,” the article said, quoting a spokesperson from the North Korean Supreme Court.

The explanation from the spokesperson was in the response to questions from the U.S. government and media regarding the opacity of the trial and legal injustice, the article stated.

North Korea has previously imprisoned American citizens for breaking domestic laws, the most high-profile case being the case of journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who illegally crossed the Sino-North Korean border when attempting to speak to refugees.

Their detention resulted in a visit to Pyongyang from former U.S. president Bill Clinton, who eventually secured their release from a sentence of 10 months hard labor.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has visited North Korea three times, securing the release of U.S. prisoner Aijalon Mahli Gomes during his second trip in August 2010. The late Kim Jong Il spurned an opportunity to meet Carter and a visiting Elders Group delegation in April 2010, instead using the occasion to visit China.

Additional reporting by Chad O’Carroll and Gianluca Spezza in London, Andrew Kwon in Washington D.C., Yeseul Loaiza in Los Angeles, Aaron Kaiser-Chen in Chicago and Justin Rohrlich in New York. (Picture: Main square, Rajin, Rason Special Economic Zone, 2012. NK News).

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About the Author

James Pearson

James Pearson (@pearswick) was the NK News Seoul Correspondent.