(Reuters) - The family of a U.S. missionary imprisoned in North Korea said on Thursday it was “devastating” to read an interview published in a Japanese newspaper in which he said his health had deteriorated and he felt abandoned by the U.S. government.
Kenneth Bae, who was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor on charges of trying to overthrow North Korea’s political system, said he now has serious lung and liver problems in an interview published by Choson Sinbo, according to his family.
The newspaper is published in Japan but supports North Korea and reflects its views.
Bae’s sister, Terri Chung, said in a statement that Bae already suffers from chronic diabetes and a lingering spinal injury, and she worried whether he would survive more hard labor.
“With the threat of Kenneth being sent back to labor camp despite ill health, our family is becoming increasingly desperate to get Kenneth home,” the statement said.
“After months of silence, it is devastating to hear Kenneth talk about ‘feeling abandoned by the United States government,'” the statement added.
While the family said they appreciate all the U.S. State Department has done in trying to secure Bae’s release, he remains in captivity.
“We implore President (Barack) Obama and Secretary (of State John) Kerry for urgent action to secure Kenneth’s freedom,” the statement said.
Bae is one of three Americans currently being held by North Korea. Jeffrey Fowle was detained in June and Matthew Todd Miller was apprehended in April, the North Korean news agency, KCNA, reported and officials said at the time.
North Korea has detained and then released other Americans in the past year, including Korean War veteran Merrill E. Newman, who was expelled after being held for more than a month.
Despite being one of the world’s most isolated countries, thousands travel to North Korea each year for tourism.
Tourism helps bring hard foreign currency to the cash-strapped North, where foreign commerce has been severely hit by international sanctions largely imposed because of its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Reporting by Curtis Skinner in New York; Editing by Sandra Maler