North Korea allowed foreign media access to three American detainees on Monday.
Monitored by North Korean officials as each detainee spoke individually, all three men asked for Washington to send a high-ranking representative to negotiate for their freedom.
Kenneth Bae, 46, is a Christian missionary who has been detained the longest of the three. He was arrested in North Korea in late 2012 and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for being found guilty of the “anti-state” crime of using his religion as a cover to create a network within North Korea to topple its government. Christian proselytizing is considered a crime in North Korea.
Bae made mention of his failing health in his interview, which included diabetes, a bad back, and high blood pressure. He is made to work eight hours a day, six days a week as part of his sentence.
The other two detainees are Jeffrey Fowle and Mathew Miller. Unlike Bae, they have yet to be sentenced and neither know what punishment they may face or even what the specific charges are against them. But both said they expect to face trial within a month. North Korea says Fowle and Miller violated their statuses as tourists by committing “hostile acts” and did say that trial preparations have begun, although no date was given.
North Korean officials claim that Fowle, who arrived in North Korea on April 29, left a Bible in a nightclub in Chongjin and that Miller, who entered North Korean on April 10, tore up his tourist visa at the airport while shouting that he wanted to seek asylum. Miller refused to comment on whether or not he was, in fact, seeking asylum.
Both men, despite not knowing what specific charges they may face or the punishments that could come from those charges, have still signed confessions, just as Bae did earlier.
This is not the first time North Korea has used detainees as leverage to try to force a dialogue with the United States. The U.S. and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations, and the U.S. has been trying to isolate North Korea due to the country’s nuclear program.
But as 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 include prominent, high-level emissaries, such as former President Clinton, traveling to Pyongyang and asking officially for the release of detainees. At that point, North Korea can then advertise the move within their own country as the U.S. recognizing North Korea as “a dialogue partner” while obtaining the release of Americans.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki urged North Korea to free Bae, Fowle, and Miller, saying, “We continue to work actively to secure these three U.S. Citizens’ release.”
[Image via Bayou Buzz]