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Kenneth Bae urges U.S. to help secure his release in North Korea

By Judy Kwon and Josh Levs, CNN
updated 7:06 AM EST, Tue January 21, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Kenneth Bae's family apologizes to North Korea on his behalf
  • Bae -- still being held in North Korea -- says he committed a "serious crime"
  • The country has a long history of forcing false confessions
  • Recently released Merrill Newman said his confession was false and forced

(CNN) -- Kenneth Bae, a U.S. citizen being held in North Korea, told reporters on Monday that he had committed a "serious crime" in the secretive nation and that he had not experienced abusive treatment by the regime.

"I would like to plead with the U.S. government, press and my family to stop worsening my situation by making vile rumors against North Korea and releasing materials related to me, which are not based on the facts," he said before video cameras in Pyongyang.

"I want to be pardoned by the North as soon as possible and return to my beloved family," Bae told journalists from several news organizations. "For that, I ask the U.S. government, press and my family to make more active efforts and pay more attention."

Bae's family did just that. His sister Terri Chung released a statement that later Monday, at one point, addresses North Korean leaders.

Kenneth Bae's family pleads for mercy
Kenneth Bae: I am a criminal

"We understand that Kenneth has been convicted of crimes under (North Korean) laws. Our family sincerely apologizes on Kenneth's behalf. Kenneth has also acknowledged his crimes and has apologized. He has now served 15 months of his sentence, but faces chronic health problems. We humbly ask for your mercy to release my brother."

Chung said the video showed that her brother was worn down.

"In his eyes, I could see that he was distressed," she said.

Any statement made by Bae in captivity would be sanctioned by the North Korean government, whose widespread human rights abuses are known to the world.

The country has a long history of exacting false "confessions."

In December, 85-year-old Merrill Newman, a veteran of the Korean War, was freed from captivity in North Korea after being forced to give a false confession, he said afterward.

Alan Gross, at right with Rabbi Arthur Schneier, has been in Cuban custody since December 2009, when he was jailed while working as a subcontractor. Cuban authorities say Gross tried to set up illegal Internet connections on the island. Gross says he was just trying to help connect the Jewish community to the Internet. Former President Jimmy Carter and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson have both traveled to Cuba on Gross' behalf. On December 17, Gross was released from Cuban prison. Alan Gross, at right with Rabbi Arthur Schneier, has been in Cuban custody since December 2009, when he was jailed while working as a subcontractor. Cuban authorities say Gross tried to set up illegal Internet connections on the island. Gross says he was just trying to help connect the Jewish community to the Internet. Former President Jimmy Carter and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson have both traveled to Cuba on Gross' behalf. On December 17, Gross was released from Cuban prison.
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Photos: Americans detained abroad Photos: Americans detained abroad

"Anyone who has read the text of it or who has seen the video of me reading it knows that the words were not mine and were not delivered voluntarily. Anyone who knows me knows that I could not have done the things they had me 'confess' to," he wrote.

Bae, of Lynwood, Washington, was arrested in November 2012 in Rason along North Korea's northeastern coast. The devout Christian and father of three operated a China-based company specializing in tours of North Korea, according to his family and freekennow.com, a website friends set up to promote his release.

"Several years ago, Kenneth saw an opportunity that combined his entrepreneurial spirit with his personal convictions as a Christian," the site said. "He believed in showing compassion to the North Korean people by contributing to their economy in the form of tourism."

The North Korean government accused Bae of planning to bring down the government through religious activities.

READ: Who is Kenneth Bae?

CNN's Judy Kwon and Paula Hancocks contributed to this report.

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