PYONGYANG, North Korea — Three Americans detained in North Korea spoke out about their conditions and pleaded for U.S. help in interviews with CNN.
Kenneth Bae, Matthew Todd Miller and Jeffrey Edward Fowle met with Will Ripley at a Pyongyang hotel Monday. Each was given five minutes for an interview.
All three men said they hope the U.S. government will send an envoy to North Korea to help get them out of their situations, similar to how former President Bill Clinton helped secure the release of two journalists in 2009.
Bae, who is serving a 15-year prison sentence for “hostile acts to bring down its government,” said he is working eight hours a day, six days a week at a labor camp.
North Korea claimed Bae was part of a Christian plot to overthrow the regime.
“Right now what I can say to my friends and family is, continue to pray for me,” he said.
Despite what he called “hard labor,” Bae said he has been treated “as humanely as possible.”
Miller, who is accused of tearing up his tourist visa and seeking asylum upon entry, implored the U.S. government for help during his interview.
He said he wanted to tell the United States that “my situation is very urgent, that very soon I am going to trial, and I would directly be sent to prison.”
He said he will not learn of his charges until he goes to trial.
And Fowle, an American tourist accused of leaving a Bible in a hotel where he was staying, said he has “no complaints” about his treatment.
“It’s been very good so far, and I hope and pray that it continues, while I’m here two more days or two more decades,” he 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 circumstances leading up to the interviews were bizarre.
The CNN team was on a government tour about two hours outside Pyongyang when it learned it had to leave immediately to meet with a high-level government official in the capital.
The crew boarded a van to a secret location, where it found out the meeting was with the three Americans.
Bae says health ‘failing’
Bae’s family has been pushing for his release due to his worsening health. The 46-year-old suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure and has kidney stones.
“I’ve been going back and forth between hospital and to the labor camp for the last year and a half,” Bae told Ripley on Monday.
He said his health has “been failing” over the past 1½ months.
“My hands are numb and tingling, and it’s difficult sleeping at night, and I was working in the field every day,” Bae said.
U.S. officials have repeatedly called on North Korea to release Bae but to no avail.
Even former basketball star Dennis Rodman, who has visited North Korea and called its ruler, Kim Jong Un, a “friend for life,” asked Kim to “do me a solid and cut Kenneth Bae loose.”
Miller: ‘I deliberately committed my crime’
Dressed in a black turtleneck and often staring at the ground, Miller said he has admitted his guilt — even though he won’t learn of his charges until he goes to trial.
“But I will say that I prepared to violate the law of the DPRK before coming here,” Miller said, using the initials for the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“And I deliberately committed my crime. I have already admitted my guilt and apologized to the government of the DPRK and I have been asking for forgiveness.”
When asked why he reportedly sought asylum in North Korea, Miller said he already discussed his motive during his investigation and that “for the interview, it is not necessary.”
He expressed frustration that “there’s been no movement from my government.”
“The American government is known for having a strong policy of protecting its citizens, yet for my case there is still no movement,” he said.
Fowle describes ‘desperate situation’
North Korea announced Fowle’s detention in June, saying he had violated the law by acting “contrary to the purpose of tourism.”
“The charges are violations of DPRK law, which stems from me trying to leave a Bible,” the 56-year-old told Ripley.
“It’s a covert act and a violation of tourists rules. I’ve admitted my guilt to the government and signed a statement to that effect and requested forgiveness from the people and the government of the DPRK.”
Fowle said he expects his trial to start within a month.
“You guys should convey my desperate situation,” he said.
“I’ve got a wife and three elementary school-aged kids that depend on me for support.”