Former N. Korean prisoner Kenneth Bae calls death of American student a tragedy and 'outrage'

SEATTLE -- Kenneth Bae, a former Lynnwood resident detained for years in North Korea until his 2014 release, called the death of Otto Warmbier a tragedy and an "outrage."

He called on North Korea to release the three Americans still detained in that country.

Bae, a Christian missionary who ran a company specializing in tours of North Korea, was accused by Pyongyang of plotting to bring down the government through religious activities. He was detained in late 2012, and in April 2013 was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. He was released in November 2014 with the help of the Obama administration.

He issued the following statement Monday night on the death of Warmbier, the 22-year-old American recently released from North Korea in a coma and who died Monday.

"I grieve for the family of Otto Warmbier. This is a young man who had so much promise. He was a college student on a journey to see the world. For North Korea to detain him and sentence him to 15 years in prison was an injustice. But for Otto to be returned to the US in the state he was in – and then for him to die because of it – is not only an outrage, but it is a tragedy for his entire family.

"I cannot understand what the Warmbier family is feeling right now. But I mourn with them, and I pray for them. No words can ease this pain, but we can pray for them. It’s my hope and prayer that they also know others in America are mourning with them and will not forget their son and brother.

"As we grieve Otto’s passing, I also want people to know that other Americans remain detained in North Korea right now. There are three Americans—Kim Dong Chul, Tony Kim, Kim Hak-Song—and the Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim. But there are certainly many other people living without freedom in the country of 24 million people – enduring horrible circumstances and forced labor – and we do not even know their names.   

"We plead with the US government, the international community, and leadership in North Korea to value human lives. Every life is important -- Otto's life, lives of the American detainees, and the lives of each person in North Korea. I am a Christian, and part of what that means is to act justly and to have mercy on the innocent. Although we don’t know everything about life in North Korea, this much is sure: innocent people like Otto are suffering. I pray that these innocent people suffering in North Korea are not forgotten in this high-stakes game of weapons, sanctions, and international diplomacy.

"Please join me in prayer and be a voice for the innocent. Please join me in praying for Otto’s family. This did not have to happen and should never happen again."