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Family of captive American Kenneth Bae pleads for his release from North Korea

By Mariano Castillo, CNN
updated 10:10 AM EST, Wed January 22, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Kenneth Bae has been imprisoned in North Korea for 15 months
  • He told reporters that he committed a crime and is being treated well
  • But North Korea is known for reviewing anything he says
  • Bae's family wants him freed; "I'm kind of worried about" his state of mind, mother says

(CNN) -- The imprisoned American man who allegedly confessed to crimes in North Korea is not the same son his mother remembers.

"He's not my usual son, kind of different," Myunghee Bae, mother of Kenneth Bae, told CNN's Chris Cuomo on Wednesday.

Kenneth Bae, who has been jailed in North Korea for 15 months, told reporters there that he committed a "serious crime" in the secretive nation and that he had not experienced abusive treatment by the regime.

But 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.

Bae sister: It was good to see his face
Kenneth Bae Speaks
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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There was something off, his mother said, when she saw him on television.

"He's not my usual son, kind of different. My heart aches when I saw him," she said.

In his remarks, Kenneth Bae asked the U.S. government, the media and his family to not make things worse by spreading "vile rumors" about North Korea.

He also asked his family and other supporters to make more active efforts to secure his freedom.

"We're hoping that we're getting closer to the end," Bae's sister, Terri Chung, told CNN. "I'm glad that he had a platform to speak, but it is also flooded back with a lot of mixed emotions, watching him in that prison uniform."

The family is scared for him, Chung said, and is appealing to anyone who may help Bae's cause.

"We believe that Kenneth is being treated well, as he said, and we hope that North Korean authorities will have mercy and allow Kenneth to come home," she said.

The U.S. government is doing what it can, Chung said, adding that she thinks that "things are in the works."

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 that friends set up to promote his release.

"He looks very distressed," Bae's mother said. "He has a strong, strong mind, but, I don't know, after 15 months, he has to maintain the same stable mind all the time. I'm kind of worried about that."

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

READ: Who is Kenneth Bae, and why is he in a North Korean prison camp?

CNN's Judy Kwon and Josh Levs contributed to this report.

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