By Blake Neff - 01/20/14 10:17 AM EST
Kenneth Bae, a U.S. citizen imprisoned in North Korea, said Monday in a Pyongyang press conference that he had committed a “serious crime” against North Korea, and urged the U.S. to cooperate with the country to secure his release.
“Thanks to the humanitarian treatment from the DPRK side, I could maintain contacts with my family through phone calls and mail, with the help of the Swedish embassy,” Bae said.
Bae's confession is similar to that given by Korean War veteran Merrill Newman in December. The 85-year-old, who was arrested while visiting North Korea, confessed that he had committed numerous war crimes during the conflict, but repudiated the confession as false once he was released and returned to the U.S.
Arrested in November, 2012, Bae has been held longer by North Korea than any U.S. citizen since the end of the Korean War. Prior to his arrest, he operated a company out of China specializing in tours of North Korea. According to his supporters at the site FreeKenNow.com, Bae is a devout Christian who believed in “showing compassion to the North Korea people by contributing to their economy in the form of tourism.”
In April, 2013, Bae was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for the crime of “state subversion.” According to his sister, the hours of labor each day in prison took a severe toll on his health, and he was hospitalized in August. Bae suffers from several health problems, including diabetes.
“As we have said before, we remain very concerned about Kenneth Bae’s health,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a statement. “We continue to urge the DPRK authorities to grant Bae amnesty and immediate release.
“We continue to work actively to secure Mr. Bae’s release, including through regular, close consultation with the Swedish Embassy,” she added.
“The protection of U.S. citizens overseas is one of the Department of State’s highest priorities.”
--This report was updated at 3:18 p.m.