PYONGYANG, North Korea — Speaking to reporters at a press conference in Pyongyang on Monday, an American missionary sentenced to 15 years hard labor in North Korea pleaded for U.S. intervention to secure his release.
“I would like to plead with the U.S. government, press and my family to stop worsening my situation by making vile rumors against North Korea and releasing materials related to me, which are not based on the facts,” he said. “I want to be pardoned by the North as soon as possible and return to my beloved family. For that, I ask the U.S. government, press and my family to make more active efforts and pay more attention.”
As previously reported, Kenneth Bae, who operates a tourist company in Washington state, was arrested not far from the city of Yanji in November 2012, 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.
During the press conference on Monday, Bae confessed to committing crimes against North Korea, but many are skeptical about his statement as a number of former detainees have been freed after making false confessions. Merill Newman, an 80-year-old captive that was released last month, has since told reporters that he was released after making a videotaped confession under duress.
“We shouldn’t take Kenneth Bae’s comments merely as his own,” Kim Jin Moo of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul told the Associated Press. “The reason why North Korea had Kenneth Bae make this statement … is that they want Washington to reach out to them.”
“The vice president of the United States said that I was detained here without any reason,” Bae said during the press conference. “And even my younger sister recently told the press that I had not committed any crime and I know that the media reported it. … “[The vice president’s comments] infuriated the people here enormously. And for this reason, I am in a difficult situation now.”
Bae has been serving hard labor for over a year in the country, mostly working in the fields, and has been reportedly suffering from a number of health issues.
Following the release of his videotaped statement, the U.S. stated that it hoped the news conference was a positive sign, and noted that it has offered to send a special envoy to work toward the missionary’s release.
“We hope this decision by DPRK authorities to allow Kenneth Bae to meet with reporters signals their willingness to release him,” an unidentified official told Reuters. “We have offered to send Ambassador [Robert] King to Pyongyang to secure Mr. Bae’s release. We have asked the North Koreans this and await their early response.”