LONDON – Kenneth Bae, a U.S. citizen imprisoned in North Korea, has appealed to U.S. authorities to help secure his release from prison, an interview published on Wednesday by pro-North Korean newspaper Choson Sinbo and carried by CNN said.
Kenneth Bae now sports a shaved head, stained overalls marked prisoner number ‘103’ and appears to have lost weight since being taken captive by the government in Pyongyang.
“I know that my family is working hard to improve the situation with the DPRK and U.S. governments. I hope they keep praying and request for a pardon from the DPRK and U.S. government,” Mr. Bae said on Wednesday, three months after being sentenced to fifteen years hard labor for “hostile acts” against North Korea.
The interview, published simultaneously in a video exclusive by CNN and in print by the Japan based Chosun Sinbo, comes just one day ahead of the U.S. holiday of Independence Day, which North Korea has historically used to grab headlines in America.
In 2006 and 2009 North Korea used July Fourth celebrations to launch long-range rockets, but this year North Korea’s American prisoner is shown appealing directly to Washington for help.
In the video version of the interview shown by CNN, Bae is seen with his head shaved, looking visibly thinner than in a winter 2009 video of him preaching in China.
“Although my health is not good, I am being patient and coping well,” Bae says in CNN’s video report.
When asked to elaborate about his health in Chosun Sinbo’s coverage of the interview, Bae says: “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”.
“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.”
“I mostly do farming. I partake in labor about eight hours per day from morning to evening. I have breaks and lunch time as well. People here take good care of me so my work load is not that bad,” Bae adds, commenting on his life in North Korea prison.
Footage shown of Bae’s daily routine on CNN is noteworthy for including numerous “rest” breaks –– although cited in English by North Korean media as being in a “prison camp”, Bae is most likely to be in a “special prison”, designed for foreign captives:
Although North Korea previously said that Kenneth Bae would not be used as a bargaining chip with America, the emergence of the prison video on a U.S. news network suggests otherwise.
“Humanitarian issues are the bait that Pyongyang can use to draw the U.S. and ROK into talks,” Daniel Pinkston of the International Crisis Group told NK News after learning about the video.
“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,” Pinkston added.
Bae was arrested in November 2012, before current tensions on the Korean peninsula were escalated by Pyongyang’s rhetoric and joint South Korean-U.S. military exercises.
The video, released by CNN –– a U.S. network that has had a long relationship of reporting from within North Korea –– suggests that Pyongyang is making a visible effort to show the American public that Mr. Bae is being treated well ahead of the annual fourth July holiday. But the interview also reveals that Independence Day is the birthday of Mr. Bae’s father.
“July fourth is my fathers 70th birthday…I really would like to go to Seattle to congratulate my father,” Bae tells his interviewer.
Coming so soon after diplomatic visits to Russia and China that some say are part of a North Korean “charm offensive,” DPRK expert Steve Chung says there is no doubt that America is the intended audience for this video:
“Releasing a video clip of Kenneth Bae with his desperate message is Pyongyang’s way of reminding the international community that the issue still exists and to put pressure on Washington to send a special envoy to resolve this issue as soon as possible.”
“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,” Pinkston added.
Mr. Bae was arrested for carrying “propaganda materials” into North Korea, including a copy of a 2007 National Geographic documentary called Don’t tell my mother I’m in North Korea, North Korean state media reported in May.
Prior to his arrest, Kenneth Bae was working as a Christian missionary in Dandong, Dalian and Yanji, NK News exclusively revealed in May. He had originally been dispatched to China by Youth With a Mission (YWAM), an international missionary organization that specializes in “opening up” countries closed to religion.
NK News reported in June that Kenneth Bae had been arrested at the Wonjong border crossing, suggesting that he may have already been on a North Korean watch-list. NBA Basketball star Dennis Rodman called on Kim Jong Un to release Bae using his Twitter account.
Rodman said in May that he would talk about Bae to the North Korean leader during a scheduled August vacation in North Korea.
TRANSLATED INTERVIEW FROM CHOSON SINBO:
Chosun Sinbo: How is your health situation?
Kenneth Bae: 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.
Chosun Sinbo: What is your day like?
Kenneth Bae: I usually do farming. From morning to evening, I work for eight hours. In between, there is lunch and break time. It is my first time farming.
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.
Chosun Sinbo: Last year after you were imprisoned, did you meet with personnel from the Swedish Embassy?
Kenneth Bae: I told them the gist of the story that I was being investigated for alleged hostile acts against the state, the context I was being indicted in and when I would go to trial.
I told my family through the Swedish embassy that I would have my trial on April 30th and would remain here. Through letters, I was able to tell them of my situation here.
I also asked them for United States government’s help for me to return back to the country as soon as possible. After the trial, I asked for an effort to grant amnesty.
Chosun Sinbo: Did you talk to your family?
Kenneth Bae: I talked to them twice. Before the trial, I told them I was going to have a trial.After the trail, I told them to push for amnesty to be granted to me.
At that time, it was undecided whether I would enter the ‘special prison’ so I couldn’t tell them anything about that.
Chosun Sinbo: Do you have something to tell to your family?
Kenneth Bae: I would like to tell them that my health situation is not the best. But here, I am patiently withstanding and enduring.
I know that my family is working hard to improve the situation with the DPRK and U.S. governments. 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.
Chosun Sinbo: At the trial were you denied a lawyer’s defense?
Kenneth Bae: 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.
Chosun Sinbo: Do you have anything else to say?
Kenneth Bae: July fourth is my fathers 70th birthday. Please do request the DPRK government for favorable arrangements. And please for the American government, extend an effort for me to go back to the country as soon as possible. I am an only child. I really would like to go to Seattle to congratulate my father.
Until now, I have been living well with your consideration and care.
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.
I know that my parents are very worried and shocked. I would like to comfort them and they are having a hard time worrying about me. I am requesting your help to lessen their anxiety and uneasiness.
I ask for your help and many people’s participation and endeavor for a good result.
Screen Grab: CNN
Translation by Susan Ahn, NK News Seoul
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