News / USA

3 Americans Held in N. Korea Urge US Help

  • Kenneth Bae, an American tour guide and missionary serving a 15-year sentence in North Korea, speaks to the Associated Press in Pyongyang, Sept. 1, 2014.
  • Kenneth Bae, an American tour guide and missionary serving a 15-year sentence in North Korea, speaks to the Associated Press in Pyongyang, Sept. 1, 2014.
  • Jeffrey Fowle, an American detained in North Korea, speaks to the Associated Press in Pyongyang, Sept. 1, 2014.
  • Jeffrey Fowle, an American detained in North Korea, speaks to the Associated Press in Pyongyang, Sept. 1, 2014.
  • Mathew Miller, an American detained in North Korea, speaks to the Associated Press in Pyongyang, North Korea, Sept. 1, 2014.
  • Mathew Miller, 24, an American detained in North Korea, speaks to the Associated Press in Pyongyang, Sept. 1, 2014.
VOA News

Three American citizens being held prisoners in North Korea have called on the United States to send a high-ranking representative to secure their release.

The three – Kenneth Bae, Matthew Miller and Jeffrey Fowle – made the remarks in rare interviews set up by the North Korean government with U.S. journalists who are visiting the isolated country.

As North Korean officials looked on, the three called for a high-profile U.S. representative to visit North Korea and make a direct appeal for their release.

Bae, who is serving a 15-year sentence, said his health is failing and Miller described his own situation as "very urgent." Miller and Fowle are awaiting trials.

The U.S. journalists from CNN and the Associated Press, who were on an official visit to North Korea, say they were summoned to conduct the unplanned interviews in Pyongyang. They were given five minutes with each man, they said.

State Department calls for release

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said there was no greater priority that the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad. She said the department was aware of Monday's developments and called on North Korea to release the Americans. She asked Pyongyong to pardon Bae and grant him amnesty so he could return to his home in Lynwood, Washington, and receive medical care.

Psaki said Swedish Embassy representatives in Pyongyang had visited all three U.S. citizens and the embassy has been in touch with the U.S. government.

Watch related video report from VOA's Carolyn Presutti:

US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Koreai
September 02, 2014 3:04 AM
The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.

Circumstances vary

North Korea sentenced Bae to 15 years of hard labor in April 2013 for "hostile acts" against the Pyongyang regime. The Korean-American Christian missionary was arrested in November 2012 while leading a group of tourists in the northern city of Rason.

Bae, 46, said he works eight hours a day, six days a week at a labor camp and is being treated "as humanely as possible." He said he spends time going between the labor camp and a hospital.

Bae's sister, Terri Chung, appealed to North Korean officials to show mercy and release her brother. She said the video interview clearly showed her brother is in a lot of physical pain and under great stress.

"It's really hard to watch," Chung said, noting her brother said he was "in complete isolation for the past year and a half. … He doesn't look like himself. He looks like he's under a tremendous amount of stress and he talks about his health failing, so all of that is really hard.'' 

Bae’s family visited Washington earlier this year to work for his release.  His mother Myung-hee Bae watched her son’s latest interview and came away with the same plea.

“I really wanted it to happen right now because his body no longer takes long imprisonment in labor camp clearly his body taken big toll. His body look like it shrink a lot for me and his back aches and he got a sleep disorder, so I really ask our government to act now,” said Myung-hee.  

Miller, 24, allegedly tore up his visa on his arrival in Pyongyang April 10 and demanded asylum. During his interview, Miller said he has not yet been tried and will not learn what the charges against him are until his hearing.

Fowle, 56, entered North Korea April 29 and is accused of perpetrating activities that violate North Korean law. Diplomatic sources have said he left a Bible in his hotel room. The municipal worker from the Midwestern state of Ohio said he has no complaints about his treatment.

The last time the United States negotiated a North Korean prisoner release was in 2009, when former president Bill Clinton returned with journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee. David Straub, the former director of the State Department’s Korea desk, assisted Clinton with the negotiations. He said this time, the North Koreans are misjudging their leverage.

“If I were still in the U.S. government, I would be reluctant to be a party to sending extremely senior Americans to pick up Americans who have been incarcerated. At what point can you continue to do that? At what point does this become a benefit to the North Koreans, allowing them at any point to blackmail the United States?” said Straub.

Straub said last month a secret U.S. mission to North Korea was unsuccessful in getting the three men freed.  He thinks the Koreans want to put more pressure on the U.S. government to send a higher level government official.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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Comment Sorting
by: Mitch Eisenstein
September 02, 2014 2:09 AM
why are we saving missionaries who are counting on the USA to bail them out? they purposely got themselves captured to call attention to beliefs that the world already knows about North Korea. we know they are crazy. but are they anti christian? Duh!

by: Uncle Tom from: florida
September 01, 2014 9:38 PM
Not to worry,Obama will send his hero,Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl to rescue Miller.Three peas in the same pod.

by: Norm Reeves from: Washington State
September 01, 2014 9:37 PM
Why in the hell would anyone go to N Korea?

by: Jeff from: Peru
September 01, 2014 8:59 PM
Gee, why would they throw an American in a jail in No. Korean. This is not a first and we might consider teaching by example; leave these people to serve out their term and maybe others will get the point-if you go to No. Korea, you go to jail. Not a hard concept to grasp.

by: john Reagan
September 01, 2014 8:54 PM
I have no sympathy for those that chose to put themselves in harms way, either by purposely going to a hostile area, or 'accidentally' crossing the border while hiking. What do they want. a US invasion? Not a chance. get lost.

by: Regula from: USA
September 01, 2014 8:52 PM
Leave them in North Korea. They are CIA spies. Surely everybody by now knows that North Korea doesn't want Christian proselytizers. North Korea isn't Christian and has no intention to become Christian. If, after so many Americans got stuck in jail in North Korea for insisting to preach bibles with CIA instructions inserted, Americans still go there with some CIA religious gospel - let them sit off their sentence. Maybe that will finally keep American flakes out of North Korea.

Surely nobody believes that Bae is so sick - why on earth does he go to proselytize in North Korea when he is dependent on western hospitals?

These whining CIA flakes should stop whining and accept that you have to abide by the laws of the country you visit. Christian religion is a scourge and should be outlawed even in the west.

by: Tom from: USA
September 01, 2014 5:18 PM
So...Miller tears up his visa, denounces his US citizenship and tells North Korea that he wishes to seek asilum. They detain him and are in the process of charging him and throwing his butt in prison so now he cries fowl? Now we're supposed to feel sorry for him and spend time and taxpayer money to get his worthless carcass out and bring him back to the country he loathed so much that he denounced his citizenship? REALLY? Mr. Miller, you got what you asked for! Deal with it! After having denounced your citizenship you no longer belong to this country. At the very least, you should have to acquire your citizenship just like any other foreigner. Or just promise to vote democrat...but that's a different issue.

by: Star from: China
September 01, 2014 4:05 PM
Why do you go to N.K.?A number of cases shows that N.K. do not welcome the U.S.
In Response

by: Regula from: USA
September 01, 2014 8:57 PM
North Korea is perfectly hospitable to Americans who go there with sincere intentions. But it rightfully is not hospitable to flakes who go there under the cover of religious proselytizing, knowing that North Korea does not want Christianity - i.e. by disrespecting North Korea from the outset - but in reality going there for the CIA with a political mission, handing out bibles with secret information inserts etc. Which country would want such slimy [expletive deleted]? Leave them in jail. That is where they belong. They are spies. And the US is the first country who will jail spies for long sentences. Give North Korea the same right.

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