The Westerners who find themselves detained in North Korea -- and there have been a fair few of them in recent years -- invariably end up in front of television cameras making full-throated confessions.
American Otto Warmbier is the latest citizen of a Western country to appear before the North Korean press, reading a prepared statement Monday in which he confessed to the “severe crime” of trying to steal a propaganda poster from his hotel.
North Korea has a history of using American detainees as bargaining chips with the United States, its avowed enemy.
These are some of the previous cases of strange confessions by detained Americans – which have been explained after their release.
“Put some emotion into it.”
Jeffrey Fowle of Ohio spent almost six months in detention in North Korea in 2014 after leaving a Bible in a bathroom stall at a seaman’s club in Chongjin, a city on the northeast coast.
Fowle appeared before the media several times. Before his first appearance, in front of North Korean journalists from Associated Press Television News, Fowle’s minder told him to “put some emotion into it.”
“Emphasize your desperation for wanting to get home and that your family needs you back,” the minder, called Mr. Jo, told Fowle, according to a story by Joshua Hunt for the Atavist Magazine. Jo suggested that it might be good if Fowle cried.
But during his second appearance, to a visiting CNN crew, Fowle forgot his talking points once he got in front of the cameras. Mr. Jo, off camera, had to prompt him, according to the Atavist. “I’m getting desperate,” Fowle told CNN, in a few of the words that appeared to be his own.
“The words were not mine”
Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old California man held in 2013 after mentioning to his tour guide that he fought in the Korean War – on the “wrong side” – said afterward that he tried to signal in his televised confession that it was being made under duress.
This is what Newman said in a statement after his release:
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. To demonstrate that I was reading the document under some duress, I did my best to read the “confession” in a way that emphasized the bad grammar and strange language that the North Koreans had crafted for me to say. I hope that came across to all who saw the video.
“Long and grueling investigation"
John Short, an Australian, was arrested in North Korea in 2014 and held for almost a month after he left pamphlets about Christianity, written in Korean, at a Buddhist temple in Pyongyang on Feb. 16, the birthday of the late Kim Jong Il, second in North Korea’s ruling dynasty.
"I deeply apologize for what I have done by spreading my Bible tracts on February 16th, the birthday of his excellency Kim Jong Il," Short said in a televised confession broadcast by the official Korean Central News Agency.
"I realize that the mass media of the USA and the Western countries who say that the DPRK is the closed country and has no religious freedoms is inaccurate and wrong," Short read carefully and deliberately from prepared notes, echoing language often used in North Korean propaganda.
After his release, Short told the Australian Associated Press that he underwent a “long and grueling investigation.” “There were two-hour sessions each morning, which were repeated again in the afternoons,” he said.
Lim Hyeon-soo, a 60-year-old Korean Canadian pastor who confessed last year to attempting to overthrow North Korea, was forced to make the claim, his friends say.
Lim, who was pastor of the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto, was arrested in Pyongyang a year ago while traveling on a humanitarian mission. He had visited North Korea about 100 times.
“I have so far malignantly defamed the dignity and social system of [North Korea],” Lim said in a news conference organized by the North Korean officials, during which he named in the United States and South Korea, which he said were involved in his subversive actions.
“It is quite obvious he was forced to say these things, and I find it very regrettable,” Kim Kyong-sik, a pastor at a Korean American church in St. Louis and one of the pastors named by Lim, told the Voice of America.
“They know better than anyone else that he has been providing aid for nonpolitical and humanitarian reasons,” Kim told VOA.