The North Korean ambassador to the U.K. said in an interview that imprisoned Christian missionary Kenneth Bae should serve the full 15 years of his prison sentence, and argued that North Korea has no labor camps but "education places" instead.
Ambassador Hyun Hak-bong sat down on Thursday for a rare English-language interview with Sky News, and was asked a series of questions about the North's relationship with South Korea, Japan, the U.S. and the western world. When asked about the fate of Bae, who was arrested in 2012 while leading a tour from China to North Korea and accused of making plots against the government, Hyun said that he was not sure if the U.S. citizen will be pardoned or not, but said that he should serve the full 15 years of his sentence.
"He's now receiving fair treatment, though he spent 15 months in Pyongyang, when sick he has received medical treatment. He will be released when he finishes his sentence," the diplomat said.
Hyun denied, however, that North Korea abuses human rights or that it has labor camps, describing those accusations as "propaganda" from western media.
"We don't have labor camps. Actually, we have education camps – places. But United States, Japan and other western countries say that we have labor camps. That is not true," Hyun said.
When asked by Sky why Kim Jong Un's government does not allow foreign journalists to come visit the country and explore for themselves whether there are any labor camps or not, the North Korean official offered the following as a response:
"Since we don't have labor camps, how can we allow the journalists to come and see (these) labor camps?"
Earlier in January, Bae made an appearance at a press conference in North Korea, where he admitted guilt to the crimes the country is accusing him off, apologized for his actions and asked President Barack Obama to help him return back home. Several commentators pointed out, however, that he was likely pressured into admitting guilt.
The Christian missionary's family in the U.S. has continuously pleaded for his release, saying that he has chronic health problems that need treatment.
"To the leaders of DPRK, we understand that Kenneth has been convicted of crimes under DPRK laws. Our family sincerely apologizes on Kenneth's behalf. Kenneth has also acknowledged his crimes and has apologized," Bae's sister, Terri Chung, wrote in a message following the press conference.
"He has now served 15 months of his sentence, but faces chronic health problems. We humbly ask for your mercy to release my brother."
In December, human rights group Amnesty International shared satellite images of what it said was North Korea's large prison camps, where hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are believed to be kept in "horrific" conditions.
"The gruesome reality of North Korea's continued investment in this vast network of repression has been exposed. We urge the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all those prisoners of conscience held in political prison camps and close the camps immediately," said Rajiv Narayan, Amnesty International's East Asia researcher.