North Korean group releases video interview of held Lynnwood man
A North Korean media outlet has released footage of an interview with Kenneth Bae, the Lynnwood man sentenced to 15 years hard labor for what the regime called hostile acts against the state.
In the undated footage released via CNN, Bae said he is mainly working in farm fields, but only for eight hours a day. Bae stated his handlers are “considerate, so I’m not working too hard."
Bae asked the U.S. government to facilitate his release, and added he hoped to be home by July 4, his father’s 70th birthday.
CNN said it obtained the footage from Chosun Sinbo, a Tokyo-based North Korean group that recently interviewed Bae in prison.
According to interview highlights posted on Chosun Sinbo's site, Bae said he is not in the best of health due to pre-existing conditions including diabetes, heart and liver issues, and a years-old hip injury that has been acting up. He added he is reguarly treated by a doctor, according to the text posted on the North Korean site.
Blaine Harden, a Seattle-based journalist and author of the book Escape from Camp 14, says it appears Bae isn't being treated like a typical North Korean political prisoner.
"It's clear that he is eating and getting relatively decent treatment," he said. "The people who emerge from the political labor camps for North Korean political enemies, they are ragged, covered with lice and hungry. Desperately hungry."
Bae was arrested last November in Rason, a special economic zone in North Korea's far northeastern region bordering China and Russia, according to the North's state media. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor by North Korea’s Supreme Court for allegedly attempting to overthrow the regime.
Pyongyang has rejected speculation that it intends to use Bae as a bargaining chip. But Harden says the release of the video further proves that North Korea is using Bae as precisely that.
"There's a pattern in North Korea of fist-shaking, followed by a request for negotiations and some sort of concessions. And showing a video like this is very consistent," he said.
Friends say Bae is a devout Christian and tour operator based in China who traveled frequently to North Korea to feed orphans.
NBA star Dennis Rodman, who recently made waves with his visit to North Korea, called on the country’s leader to free the American man being held captive.
“I'm calling on the Supreme Leader of North Korea or as I call him 'Kim', to do me a solid and cut Kenneth Bae loose,” Rodman tweeted. The North Korean regime has not responded to Rodman's request.
Six other Americans have been detained in North Korea since 2009; they eventually were deported or released, some after trips by prominent Americans including Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.