An American Christian that was sentenced to 15 years hard labor in North Korea has appeared in a prison interview, tearfully imploring the United States to help secure his release.
As previously reported, Kenneth Bae, who operates a Washington-based tourist company, was arrested not far from the city of Yanji in November, where some Christian groups provide aid to North Korean refugees. It is stated that Bae has made a number of trips to North Korea to assist orphaned children.
While the exact reason for his charges of committing “hostile [and religious] acts to bring down the government” has not been made known, some organizations speculate that Bae may be in trouble for taking pictures that the government found threatening.
“The most plausible scenario I can think of is that he took some pictures of the orphans, and the North Korean authorities considered that an act of anti-North Korean propaganda,” said Do Hee-youn of the Citizens’ Coalition for the Human Rights of North Korean Refugees.
Others opine that perhaps he took photographs of prisoners being executed or other similar human rights concerns. One report claims that Bae was found with a disc that had potentially sensitive information.
In a video from prison released by CNN, a noticeably thinner Bae, wearing a stained prison uniform and appearing with a shaved head, urges his family to ask the United States to work harder for his release.
“July fourth is my father’s 70th birthday,” he outlines. “I really would like to go to Seattle to congratulate my father.”
“I know that my family is working hard to improve the situation with the DPRK and U.S. governments,” Bae continues. “I hope they keep praying and request for a pardon from the DPRK and U.S. government. Please continue to pray for me and ask the DPRK and U.S. government to grant amnesty for me.”
He states that his hard labor sentence involves farming.
“From morning to evening, I work for eight hours,” Bae explains. “In between, there is lunch and break time.”
However, the imprisoned businessman says that his health has been suffering.
“I am not working excessively because people here have been very considerate. But my health situation is not great, so it has been difficult. There is a doctor who lives here and I get regular checkups as well,” he outlines. “I used to have diabetes, Hyperlipidemia, fatty liver and Arteriosclerosis. Ten years ago, I used to have a backache and it has now come back.”
Bae also claims in the footage that he admitted to violating North Korean law, but did not explain further .
“There were preliminaries for three months. I wrote a statement that I violated the law upon entry to Rajin city. During the preliminaries, I admitted to this fact so I didn’t feel the need to choose a lawyer to defend my case at the trial,” he states. “I know that what I did cannot be forgiven, but my wish is for this to be solved as soon as possible and meet my family.”
However, Jasper Kim, of the Asia Pacific Global Research Group told CNN that he believes the video is a ploy by the North Korean government.
“These images and the video are all meant to depict specific instances of a particular message,” he said. “If you put it all together, the theme is, well, number one, ‘We have Kenneth Bae, don’t forget about him, he’s still around and still accessible if you really want him and if you really value him.'”
Daniel Pinkston of the International Crisis Group agreed.
“For months the DPRK has been trying extremely hard to get the U.S. to sit down face-to-face to extend ‘nuclear status’ to Pyongyang…They will use Bae or anything or anyone they can in pursuit of their state goals,” he told NK News. “The U.S. Government will do what it can to earn Bae’s release, but I dont see the Obama administration bending to the DPRK’s will. Sure, it’s a human tragedy, but the DPRK is in a weak bargaining position.”
“I was hoping that my problem would be worked out by end of June,” Bae laments in the video. “So 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.”