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North Korea charged U.S. prisoner $300,000 in hospital fees

Kenneth Bae’s imprisonment took a toll on his health.

By Elizabeth Shim
North Korea charged U.S. prisoner $300,000 in hospital fees
Kenneth Bae being interviewed during his period of captivity in North Korea, where he was imprisoned from 2012 to 2014. File Photo by Choson Sinbo

SEOUL, May 4 (UPI) -- An American who was freed from captivity in North Korea in 2014 said Pyongyang billed him $300,000 in hospitalization fees after his release.

Kenneth Bae, the South Korea-born U.S. citizen who had been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea on charges of carrying out missionary activities, said in an interview with CNN that he spent two years doing exhausting work.

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The imprisonment took a heavy toll on Bae's health, and he was hospitalized three times for diabetes, an enlarged heart and back pain, The New York Times reported.

According to Bae, North Korea billed him 600 euros for each night he spent in a hospital, which totaled $300,000.

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"I told them, 'I'm a missionary; I don't have that kind of money,'" he said. Bae never paid the charges.

During his first four weeks in captivity, Bae said he was interrogated up to 15 hours a day. Officers yelled at him until he wrote a confession that suited them, although they eventually allowed him to read the Bible and to pray.

Verbal abuse happened frequently, Bae said, usually from from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. while he was "working on the field, carrying rock, shoveling coal."

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One North Korean prosecutor kept telling Bae: "'No one remembers you. You have been forgotten by people, your government. You're not going home anytime soon. You'll be here for 15 years. You'll be 60 before you go home.'"

Bae said he never received corporal punishment and was allowed to talk to family members.

He also had access to messages and letters from around the world.

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Bae was released in November 2014, ten months after U.S. basketball player Dennis Rodman ironically called attention to his imprisonment by criticizing him.

Bae said the Rodman rant was a "catalyst" for his release.

North Korea currently has in custody two U.S. citizens: University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier and Kim Dong Chul, a resident of Fairfax, Va.

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