American missionary Kenneth Bae, who's been held for more than a year in North Korea following his arrest and trial on espionage charges, spoke to reporters for Western media on Monday, calling for the U.S. government to help win his freedom.
Bae, 45, who was wearing a gray prison uniform with the identification number 103, told reporters, "I believe that my problem can be solved by close cooperation and agreement between the American government and the government of this country."
Bae, of Korean descent, was leading a tour group to North Korea when he was arrested in late 2012. He is serving 15 years hard labor following his conviction in May on various charges, including the attempted overthrow of the Pyongyang government.
Speaking at a news conference that he said he'd requested, Bae urged intervention on his behalf.
He said that comments made last month by Vice President Joe Biden and by his own sister had made his captivity more difficult.
"The vice president of United States said that I was detained here without any reason," Bae said. "And even my younger sister recently told the press that I had not committed any crime, and I know that the media reported it.
"I think these comments infuriated the people here enormously. And for this reason, I am in a difficult situation now," he said. "As a result, although I was in medical treatment in the hospital for five months until now, it seems I should return to prison. And moreover there is greater difficulty in discussions about my amnesty."
As The Associated Press notes, "[it] is not unusual for prisoners in North Korea to say after their release that they spoke in similar situations under duress."
The AP writes:
"Bae's appearance came weeks after North Korea freed an elderly American veteran of the Korean War who had been held for weeks for alleged crimes during the 1950-53 conflict.
"State media said 85-year-old Merrill Newman was released because he apologized for his wrongdoing and that authorities also considered his age and medical condition. Newman said after his release that a videotaped confession was made under duress, although he was generally treated well."