American Faces Death Penalty in North Korea for Photos He Took


Korean-American Kenneth Bae made headlines back in November when he was arrested while leading a tour group though the Rason Special Economic Zone in North Korea. The reasons behind the arrest have never been properly confirmed, but it seems that his detainment had something to do with photos he was taking while he was spending time in the country.

No headway has been made in the case since he was taken into custody, but a recent report by the Korean Central News Agency claims that Bae has “admitted that he committed crimes aimed to topple the DPRK,” and that he will now be tried in North Korean supreme court for those crimes, the maximum punishment for which is the death penalty.

Many of the facts in this case (if you can call them that) have been collected from a slew of South Korean sources, some of which are hard, if not impossible, to confirm. What the majority of sources seem to agree about, however, is that his arrest and detainment has something to do with his taking pictures of orphans begging for food in the markets of Rason.


We know that taking photos in North Korea is a dangerous endeavor. Still, that in and of itself shouldn’t be enough to get him charged with plotting to overthrow the government, lending credence to one report that he had footage of North Korea executing defectors and dissidents on his person.

Whatever the case may be, the KCNA is claiming that his crimes have been “proven by evidence,” and according to The Telegraph, North Korean officials have already suggested that Bae will face harsh punishment and possibly execution.

In response, the US State Department has reaffirmed that the safety of US citizens overseas is a “critical priority” and that it is working with the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang to resolve the case. Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that they sent a Swedish official to visit Bae on Friday, but that they have “no additional information to share at this time.”

(via The Phoblographer)

Image credit: North Korea — Pyongyang by (stephan), portrait of Kenneth Bae by Remember Ken Bae, Detained in North Korea

  • Pete

    Of Course he should be set free and not executed. Of Course. But maybe, just maybe, he should expect this to happen taking photos in North Korea. A shout out to Darwin and Louie CK.

  • Trythe1

    I’m getting really tired of those north korean clowns

  • Matthew

    Photos courtesy of Facebook?
    What you mean to say is, used without permission from the copyright holder.

  • Oso

    im sorry that this is happening to him. but. dude does anyone expect anything rational, respectful or logical to come from this bubble of tyranny? dont kick the hornets nest.

  • Greg Schmidt

    Why would anyone under any circumstances want to go to N. Kraporea?

  • SpaceMan

    Great, as if my fear of clowns wasn’t bad enough

  • Trausti Hraunfjörð

    Just like the USofA. Seriously!
    Does the name Bradley Manning ring any bells with those of you who disagree?
    No? Not surprising. He also faces death penalty for having helped uncover organized murders by US military personnel. So.. telling the truth in the US, and unveiling ILLEGAL behaviour, is rewarded with isolation in prison, torture and possible death penalty.

    Maybe first fix the things at home, before demanding things to be fixed in other places?

  • DamianM

    But mmmmmaayyybbbeeeeeeeee.


  • DamianM

    Yeah they are working on that. A hybrid North Korean clown to attack the US.

  • lidocaineus

    You can’t possibly compare the cases. While both are circuses, the only thing they have in common is a very tenuous relationship via censorship, and even then they’re worlds apart. You weaken both situations by drawing comparisons between the two.

  • lidocaineus

    There are tons of reasons to want to go to North Korea ranging from general interest in the country’s bizarre setup to witnessing human suffering in an attempt to do something about it, as well as general cultural reasons. Safety is a completely different matter altogether – dont confuse the two. If I knew I could go to North Korea and be safe, is go in a heartbeat.

  • Rob S

    Oh Shut Up. PFC Manning has pleaded GUILTY to most of what he has been charged with. He will be tried on the rest. Had he REALLY been concerned with reporting a crime he had multiple avenues to do so that didn’t involve compromising hundreds of thousands of unrelated classified documents. He has admitted that he did what he did to gain attention and to “spark debate” not to report an alleged crime. Oh and said “crime” was investigated completely – LIKE EVERY OTHER – and was deemed to have been proper but regrettable. Here is a news flash – people get killed in war zones. Conflict journalists know that but go anyway. Any death is regrettable but when you go to someplace where people are actively trying to kill each other BAD THINGS HAPPEN.

  • Billy J. Nesmith

    To expand on Greg, as a US national he should have known that his citizenship marks him as a potential bargaining chip.

    If he were Canadian or a British citizen, this would not be happening.

  • DamianM

    BUt of course it wont work. North Korea is the real joke

  • 9inchnail

    Tourists are allowed to take photos but if you happen to shoot the wrong things, you’re gone. Usually you can’t travel without a government agent who will stop you from taking risky shots in the first place.

  • 9inchnail

    This guy here pleaded guilty, too. So they should execute him, right? I mean, it is impossible after all to force someone to confess a crime, we all know that.

  • 9inchnail

    Maybe he was there for an extended amount of time. I mean, the relationships between the US and NK have been tense for quite a while but the conflict has only been intensifying in the last couple of weeks. Before that NK was all bark and no bite. As a matter of fact they still are. They might make an example out of him to show that you should not mess with them when in fact they bluffed their way out of open conflict.

  • Richard Ford

    “Critical priority” – what? Like Benghazi?


    Same thing would happen to any American, taken photos in Area 51 or any other secret government installations. We wouldn’t even get a trial, we’d just “disappear” like so many fellow countrymen have “disappeared”. Maybe somebody latter finds your body in a ditch, and its attributed to a random killing on the open highway, but mostly likely, nobody ever hears anything about you ever again.

    Don’t believe me, go take a trek through Area 51. You have every right to. Its public property, and you are an American citizen. Like all public property, it belongs to the public, the people, and you are one of those public, so you have a right to travel through and be on your property. Do it. Do it.

  • Rowe Lee

    Tsk… Why even go to that hell hole?

  • Sky

    Well, considering that you can disappear from the face of a world – I think you just make me change my view on these government agents in DPRK. Better they’d do their job well.

  • Sky

    Well, it’s not a news that USA respects human rights only as long as they are comfortable.

  • 9inchnail

    Well, in the vicinity of Area 51 are numerous signs that kindly ask you to turn around and never come back. If you choose to ignore these, army personel might decide to shoot first and ask questions later. But you do get warned.

  • gord

    Lot of government agents in North Korea warning you not to take photos of anything that isn’t their glorious leader. The point is there shouldn’t be secrets if you have the people’s best interests at heart.

  • Int3nsive

    That’s the point for US government… making all people getting really tired of them.

  • Bill

    The comments on here are a joke. I’m thoroughly convinced that PetaPixel readers are a new level of sub-moron. Every time I click on a link and it leads to a PetaPixel “article” it’s usually a turd.

    Goddaman short-URLs always trick me.

  • Rob S

    OK Ill give you a choice – North Korean Justice system or US Justice system, North Korean Prison or US. No need to answer.

    The “facts” in PFC Manning’s case are not in dispute. There are no facts in the case of this photographer. Every proceeding for PFC Manning has been in open court with full media presence. While there have been many allegations against the government in this case, none have been of coerced or torture derived testimony.

    Fact – PFC Manning knowingly and willingly broke the law.

    Fact – PFC Manning has admitted to knowingly and willingly breaking the law.

    Fact – PFC Manning entered a “naked” plea. He pled guilty with no deal for sentencing – the very opposite of a coerced plea.

    Fact – PFC Manning will receive a fair trial even to the point of being able to withdraw his admission of guilt.

    Fact – In North Korea, China, Russia, Iran, and about every other non-Western nation on the planet PFC Manning would already have been executed. Had he done what he did in 1940, he would have been executed in this country.

  • Rob S

    Right. Thats why we have the huge problem with people risking their lives to leave the US. Millions of poor souls in the United States begging to leave, border crossings flooded with refugees seeking a better life……..

  • Sky

    Never mix economical situation with democracy.
    Even after this whole crisis and gigantic national debt – US is one of the richest countries in the world.

  • Rob S

    Really? Have any proof? Oh of course not because all the people who id it get disappeared. Like this guy:

    Oh wait, nothing happened to him.

    Want to go to secret military bases? Join up. Its free.

  • Rob S

    Im sorry, I thought you were talking Human Rights and now its democracy and economics.
    Qatar has a higher per capita GDP, Bahrain, Kuwait, UAE and Saudi Arabia all have jobs aplenty. Same in China, Russia, and Singapore. I dont see people clamoring to go there. Oh wait, North Koreans go to China. Why? Because even the worst job in China with no rights at all is better than North Korea.

  • Rob S

    It would be news to the Army that they were guarding an Air Force facility. It would be bigger news that they had shot anyone. Nice story but like a sitcom, not real.

  • Rob S

    Sadly idiots like Trausti see them as exactly the same. Never mind he called PFC Manning the “scum of the earth.” If it fits the narrative of the US being evil even “scum of the earth” can be your champion.

    Funny thing that almost all of the people who rail against the US either live in the US or in a Western nation defended by the US. I did media analysis at CENTCOM and had to report to a very shocked leadership that for period X (usually 90 days) there was more negative reporting about the US on Fox News than Al Jazeera – something that is still true today. They love the benefits that the US government provides while being critical of everything it provides. There is a special place in hell for them.

  • Sky

    ok, so be it: human rights.
    GDP per capita is hardly anything to show the strength of economy from a perspective of immigrant. It doesn’t matter what’s GDP in russia when only people with money basically live in Moscow and everyone else are damn poor. Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and UAE got very strict immigration polices (which unlike in USA – actually work), and on top of that they are in different cultural circle, for that reason being inaccessible for immigrants from majority of the modern world (migration between islamic countries is rather insignificant comparing to other regions of the world, even if you take the population as a scale).

    Oh, and FYI if you count European Union in then it is the richest one. Not USA. ($15.68 trillion GDP in US, $16,58 trillion GDP in EU).

  • Rob S

    Clown died of starvation

  • 9inchnail





    Another fine reenactment brought to you by… me. I hope you enjoyed.

  • Rob S

    So what you are saying is that unlike other countries with strong economies, the US is where you can actually come as an immigrant and enjoy the benefits of that strong economy rather than simply be exploited for your labor while working with no rights? Yeah what an awful place. ANd the US has more LEGAL immigration than the rest of the world combined. Our Immigration laws work.

    It would be news to a lot of my friends in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE that migration between majority Islamic nations was low. Like all the Jordanians, Egyptians, and Lebanese I worked with. Or the Qatari CFO of the Saudi Company who worked out of Dubai.

    Lets see what country is EU? Oh right, doesnt exist. I mean if we are going by economic zones than the NAFTA zone of 3 countries would kick the pants of all 27 EU nations. Apples to Apples.

    PS – Speaking of Apple – its sales exceeds the GDP of much of the EU. Its market Cap exceeds the GDP all but 7.

  • JohnDrach

    Do the world a favor and push the button already!

  • Mantis

    History will be kind to Bradly Manning.

    He’s a whistleblower of government corruption and in 30 years he’ll be talked about with the likes of Daniel Elsberg & Mark Felt (“Deepthroat”).

    These are people who also faced a lot outrage from unpatriotic Americans such as yourself.

  • Joe

    The comment section on almost any website is always full of sub-morons.

  • DamianM

    and that foiled there attempt.

  • Richard Priest

    The North Koreans need to take Lil’ Kim and his inbred family out and rejoin the South. If it worked for Germany, why not Korea?

  • Nik Forman

    You know that Russia does not have a death penalty, right?

  • Rob S

    Tell that to the convicted spies who were executed.


    idiot dont believe everything you read, north korea is no different than los angles different location different rules ofcourse but the ones im reading here are absurd. lol trust me they stick to the rules but the rules are not absurd. as they make them on here