Kenneth Bae
An undated still image from video footage shows U.S. citizen Kenneth Bae. REUTERS

The mother of Kenneth Bae, an American citizen detained in North Korea since last November, has returned from a five-day trip to the closed-off nation saying she is “more anxious than ever to bring him home.”

Myunghee Bae was able to visit her 44-year-old son in prison, where he is serving a 15-year sentence for “hostile acts” aimed at “toppling” the North Korean government, and participating in a “malignant smear campaign,” according to North Korean courts. Many believe that Kenneth’s status as a known Christian missionary is likely what got him in trouble. Friends described him as a devout Christian who'd been based in the coastal city of Dalian, China, and had traveled to North Korea to do service work at orphanages. He was arrested last November in the country’s northeastern region in a city called Rason.

In a statement released online, Myunghee Bae gave an update on her son’s health, which had been deteriorating just a few months before, by his own account. In July, in a video interview from prison aired on national television and picked up by CNN, Bae talked of his various health conditions, including diabetes, rapid weight loss, and high blood pressure. He said his “health is not in the best condition,” which was mkaking his hard-labor punishment more difficult. During the interview, Bae made a plea to both North Korea and the U.S. “My hope is that North Korea will forgive, and the U.S. will try harder to get me out speedily. I’m asking for their help.”

“I was relieved to see that Kenneth’s health has been improving because of the medical treatment he has received for the last two months,” his mom said upon returning home. “The DPRK authorities generously allowed me to visit my son three times,” she said. “I am very grateful that my son Kenneth and I were able to spend those precious hours together.”

She's now pleading with the government to "do everything in their power to secure my son’s release soon... His year-long imprisonment has taken a heavy toll not only on Kenneth but on the whole family; every day the pain and anxiety continue to carve a deep scar on all of our hearts.”

Bae, who is originally of Korean descent, lived and worked in the Seattle suburb of Lynwood before he found himself in North Korea.