Kenneth Bae, a 44-year-old man from Lynwood, Wash., was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea in late April. Now, in an exclusive interview with Choson Sinbo, a pro-North Korea organization based in Tokyo, Bae is speaking out, asking for North Korean forgiveness and for help from the U.S.
Bae, whose Korean name is Pae Jun Ho, spoke about his life since being detained last November for “anti-North Korea” activity, or crimes against the regime. “I mainly work at the farm in this prison, from morning to dinnertime, eight hours a day,” Bae said in the interview, obtained by CNN. “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,” he continued, wearing a stained, blue prison uniform.
In the interview, Bae also made an appeal, saying he hopes his request for a pardon negotiated between the North Korean and American governments will be answered. “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,” Bae said.
Charges against Bae, according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency, include setting up bases in China with the intention of “toppling the DPRK government,” as well as taking part in a “malignant smear campaign.”
Bae says he admits to his crime and now seeks forgiveness. “I admitted to the charges, so I thought that it wasn’t really necessary to have a defense lawyer during the trial. I admitted to my crime, and I apologized for it,” he said. “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,” he pleaded, also noting that his father’s 70th birthday is tomorrow, July 4, the American Independence Day holiday. “I am an only son… my father, I really hope to go congratulate him on his birthday,” a somber Bae said, speaking between heavy breaths.
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Clips of scenes from Bae’s life in prison were also included in Bae’s interview-video package. The video featured images of Bae working on a lush patch of farmland, and even the prisoner’s daily schedules, printed and framed with a convenient English translation, which emphasized ample rest times between work periods.
The timing of the newly released video comes on the heels of proposed high-level talks between North Korea and the United States. Washington is standing firm on its position that talks between the two nations will not occur until Pyongyang takes concrete steps toward denuclearization. Experts say that Bae is being used by the North Korean regime to gain attention from the U.S.
“He’s being used as a bargaining chip,” Jasper Kim, of the Asia Pacific Global Research Group, told CNN. “These images and the video are all meant to depict specific instances of a particular message. If you put it all together, the theme is, well, number one, ‘We have Kenneth Bae, don’t forget about him, he’s still around and still accessible if you really want him and if you really value him,’” Kim continued.