Three Americans who have been detained in North Korea appealed today to the U.S. to send a senior representative to secure their release.
Bae, a Christian missionary, has been detained the longest. He was arrested in late 2012 and tried and convicted to 15 years of hard labor for the attempted overthrow of North Korea’s communist regime. The 46-year-old has diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney stones. He told CNN that he worked eight hours a day, six days a week at a labor camp, and that he had been suffering from “failing health.”
“I’ve been going back and forth between hospital and to the labor camp for the last year and a half,” he said.
Fowle, 56, was detained in June. At the time, North Korean media said he “acted in violation of the DPRK law, contrary to the purpose of tourism during his stay.” CNN says he is accused of leaving a Bible in a hotel where he was staying.
“Within a month I could be sharing a jail cell with Ken Bae,” Fowle told the AP.
Miller was picked up in April, arrested for what the North called “rash behavior.” He is accused of tearing up his tourist visa and seeking asylum in the North.
He told CNN he wanted to tell the U.S. “my situation is very urgent, that very soon I am going to trial, and I would directly be sent to prison.” He declined to comment on the claim that he was seeking asylum.
Fowle and Miller both said they expected their trials to start in the next month. They both said they do not know what specific charges they face. But both, along with Bae, have signed statements admitting their guilt.
Here’s more from the AP on the conditions under which the interviews were conducted:
“The three were allowed to speak briefly with The Associated Press at a meeting center in Pyongyang. North Korean officials were present during the interviews, conducted separately and in different rooms, but did not censor the questions that were asked. The three said they did not know they were going to be interviewed until immediately beforehand.”
Of its interview, CNN said:
“All three men said they have signed statements admitting their guilt. North Korean officials monitored and recorded all three interviews, and CNN was unable to assess independently the conditions under which the men were being held.”
The U.S. does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea and is trying to isolate it over its nuclear program. But The New York Times reports, “The choreography of the interviews seemed to make increasingly clear that North Korea wanted to use the three Americans as bargaining leverage to pressure Washington to engage the country in dialogue.”
Past intercessions, by high-level emissaries such as former President Clinton have resulted in the freeing of Americans.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki urged North Korea to free Bae, Fowle and Miller out of humanitarian concern. She also asked that Bae be granted immunity.
“We continue to work actively to secure these three U.S. citizens’ release,” she said in a statement.
The Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang acts as the United States’ protecting power in North Korea, and its diplomats have met the Americans regularly, the statement said.