American Christian missionary Kenneth Bae, currently serving 15 years in North Korean for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government, has appeared in a new video speaking of health difficulties and calling on the U.S. to help secure his freedom.
Bae, otherwise known as Pae Jun Ho, was prosecuted in April for hostile acts against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) and began serving his sentence at a forced labor camp in May. He was initially arrested on Nov. 3, 2012, while leading a tour in North Korea's Rason City. It was revealed that in addition to visiting orphans during his visits to the oppressive communist country through his tour company, Bae apparently took part in evangelism activities. He shared during a 2009 sermon at a U.S. church that he hoped through prayer and worship to bring down North Korea's walls, in a project he called "Operation Jericho." The charges were detailed online by the state-led Korean Central News Agency.
During the interview conducted by pro-Pyongyang publication The Choson Sinbo, Bae apologized for the crimes and pleaded for help due to health issues, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, fatty liver and a back problem, and expressed a desire to be reunited with his family, according to a copy of the video made available to CNN.
Seated on a chair in his room and dressed in stained uniform, prisoner 103, as indicated by a tag on his jacket, told of his activities in the labor camp.
"People here are very considerate, so I'm not working too hard. But my health is not in the best condition so there are some difficulties," Bae reportedly says in Korean in the video, noting at another point that he was being "patient and coping well."
"And I hope that with the help of the North Korean government and the United States, I will be released soon," he adds.
"I know what I did is not easily forgivable, but I hope that things will work out so that I can be with my family again soon," Bae, 44, says at another point.
While North Korea has repeatedly denied using Bae as a pawn in its strategies for political advancement, CNN notes that the release of the video interview occurred after North Korea requested meetings with Washington last month.
The U.S. government, in the meantime, has been calling on Pyongyang to grant Bae amnesty, citing a lack of transparency during his trial. "There's no greater priority for us than the safety of US citizens, and we urge them to grant him amnesty and immediate release," U.S. State Department Spokesman Patrick Ventrell said in May.
Although the edited copy of the video featuring Bae's interview and work at the labor camp runs about eight minutes, CNN only showed selected clips, sharing in its report:
Bae spoke stoically throughout the interview conducted in Korean. But his eyes welled with tears when he spoke about his father's upcoming 70th birthday on July 4 — American Independence Day holiday.
"I was hoping that my problem would be worked out by end of June. 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."
He paused and bowed his head, blinking back tears. As he tried to compose himself, he spoke between deep breaths.
"I am an only son.. my father, I really hope to go to congratulate him on his birthday."
Watch the CNN report on Bae's interview from a North Korean labor camp below:
Bae is the sixth American to be detained by North Korea in five years, and none of his predecessors remained imprisoned longer than seven months. They, too, were given long prison sentences but eventually released after visits to the country by leading Western officials, such as in 2009 when former President Bill Clinton secured the release of U.S. journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee.
The Christian missionary, who lived in China with his wife, "never had any evil intentions against North Korea, or any other country for that matter," his sister, Terri Chung, insisted in May. Bae was also a resident of Washington state, where his mother and sister also live.
"We just pray and ask for leaders of both nations to please, just see him as one man, caught in between," Chung added of her brother. "He's a father to three children and we just ask that he be allowed to come home."
NBA Hall of Fame star Dennis Rodman, who visited North Korea earlier this year, had tweeted a request from his "friend," supreme leader Kim Jong-un, to free Bae. Rodman, who plans to return to the reclusive country in August, had tweeted: "I'm calling on the Supreme Leader of North Korea or as I call him 'Kim', to do me a solid and cut Kenneth Bae loose."
Telling Sports Illustrated in an interview published online July 2 that he believes he should be considered for a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to "smooth things over" between North Korea and the United States, Rodman repeated that he has "called on the Supreme Leader to do me a solid by releasing Kenneth Bae."
Although North Korea's constitution calls for freedom of religion, such a thing does not actually exist in the country, according to observers. Human rights groups have also criticized the DPRK's deadly labor camps where it is believed hundreds of thousands of Korean children and adults are imprisoned.