Three Americans held in North Korea plead for US help
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea granted two U.S. news organizations interviews with three incarcerated Americans on Monday, with all three prisoners apologizing for violating its laws and beseeching Washington to send an emissary to negotiate their release.
The three had been interviewed before in which they expressed contrition and asked the United States for help. But Monday was the first time the North Korean authorities permitted the two U.S. news organizations, CNN and The Associated Press, to speak to all three in the same location.
The choreography of the interviews seemed to make increasingly clear that North Korea wanted to use the three Americans to pressure Washington to engage the country in dialogue.
All said they were treated fairly by the North Korean authorities and had been allowed to contact their families.
But they spoke while North Korean officials were present, suggesting they had been coached.
“I’ve been going back and forth from hospital to the labor camp for last year and a half,” the longest-held prisoner, Kenneth Bae, told CNN, adding that he was working at a labor camp.
Bae, 46, a Christian missionary, was arrested after having arrived in the North in late 2012. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for the “anti-state” crime of trying to build an undercover proselytizing network within the North with the aim of toppling its government.
Bae complained of failing health, including diabetes, backaches and high blood pressure.
The others, Jeffrey Edward Fowle, and Mathew Todd Miller, reiterated assertions made in earlier interviews that they expected to face trial soon. They said they still did not know what specific charges they faced.
Fowle, 56, an Ohio municipal worker, entered North Korea in April on a tourist visa and was arrested after he left a Bible in a hotel. The authorities may have interpreted that act as Christian proselytizing.
He confirmed that he had been allowed to communicate with his wife and three children, who live in Miamisburg, Ohio, but that he had not spoken with them for three weeks.
“I’m desperate to get back to them,” he said.
Miller, 24, entered North Korea in April. But according to the North, he shredded his tourist visa upon arrival and demanded asylum. He was arrested for unruly behavior.
He expressed frustration to CNN, saying that “there’s been no movement from my government.”