UPDATE 7 (2014-8-2): Fowle and Miller interviewed:
Eric Talmadge writes in the AP:
In their first appearance since being detained more than three months ago, Matthew Todd Miller and Jeffrey Edward Fowle told a local AP Television News crew that they were in good health and were being treated well. They also said they were allowed to take daily walks. The brief meeting was conducted under the condition that the specific location not be disclosed.
Fowle said he fears his situation will get much worse once he goes on trial.
“The horizon for me is pretty dark,” he said. “I don’t know what the worst-case scenario would be, but I need help to extricate myself from this situation. I ask the government for help in that regards.”
It was not clear whether they were speaking on their own initiative, or if their comments were coerced. The TV crew was permitted to ask them questions.
North Korea says the two committed hostile acts which violated their status as tourists. It has announced that authorities are preparing to bring them before a court, but has not yet specified what they did that was considered hostile or illegal, or what kind of punishment they might face. The date of the trial has not been announced.
Ri Tong II, a North Korean diplomat, declined to answer questions about the Americans at a news conference Friday at the United Nations. But when pressed in a follow-up question he said their cases were “legal issues” and they had “violated our law.”
Fowle arrived in North Korea on April 29. He is suspected of leaving a Bible in a nightclub in the northern port city of Chongjin, but a spokesman for Fowle’s family said the 56-year-old from Miamisburg, Ohio, was not on a mission for his church. Fowle works in a city streets department. He has a wife and three children, ages 9, 10, and 12.
“The window is closing on that process. It will be coming relatively soon, maybe within a month,” Fowle said of his trial. “I’m anxious to get home, I’m sure all of us are.”
Fowle also produced a letter he said he had written summarizing his experience in North Korea.
The attorney for Fowle’s family said Friday his wife hadn’t seen the video, but had read news reports about his comments.
“I can tell you that she is very upset, as you can imagine,” said attorney Timothy Tepe. He said he and the family were still gathering information and likely would have a statement on Monday.
Less is known about Miller, or about what specific crime he allegedly committed.
North Korea’s state-run media have said the 24-year-old entered the country April 10 with a tourist visa, but tore it up at the airport and shouted that he wanted to seek asylum. A large number of Western tourists visited Pyongyang in April to run in the annual Pyongyang Marathon or attend related events. Miller came at that time, but tour organizers say he was not planning to join the marathon.
“I expect soon I will be going to trial for my crime and be sent to prison,” Miller said. “I have been requesting help from the American government, but have received no reply.”
James Pearson writes in Reuters:
American tourist Jeffrey Fowle was arrested by North Korean authorities for leaving a bible under a bin in the toilet at a club for foreign sailors, a source familiar with Fowle’s case told Reuters.
During his ten day trip to North Korea, Fowle’s fellow travellers described the middle-aged street repairs worker from Miamisburg, Ohio as a warm, amiable, quiet man.
On May 4, towards the end of an evening spent eating and drinking in Chongjin, a large industrial city on North Korea’s east coast, Fowle’s action led to him being thrown in jail, where he is awaiting trial in one of the world’s most inhospitable countries.
He left a bilingual English-Korean bible in the restaurant he and his fellow travellers were about to leave, the source, who wished to remain anonymous because of the sensitivities surrounding the case, told Reuters.
In it, Fowle had written his name and phone number, and inserted photos of himself and his family between its pages.
He was arrested three days later at the airport where he was due to board a flight out of North Korea.
Fowle and fellow detained U.S. tourist Matthew Miller – who was arrested in April for a separate incident – said they will face trial soon and have called on the U.S. government to help secure their release in an interview to the Associated Press, released on Friday.
A hand-written letter from Fowle shown in the interview confirmed he was arrested for intentionally leaving a bible in the northern city of Chongjin.
It is unclear why Fowle left the bible, the source familiar with Fowle’s case said. Media reports in Ohio said the 56-year-old is a church goer and was once a member of his school’s bible club – but there is little evidence to suggest he was a missionary.
The source familiar with Fowle’s arrest also said he did not seem overtly religious.
Yet, at the Chongjin Seamen’s Club – a faded compound originally designed as a hostel for visiting mariners that sells foreign whiskeys and serves local food – Fowle wrapped a bilingual English-Korean bible bound in fake leather in a Chinese newspaper and hid it the restroom, under a bin designed to discard the used toilet paper North Korea’s ageing plumbing can’t handle.
A cleaner found the package, and alerted local authorities.
When his guides asked if anyone had left anything at the club – a small cluster with shops, a sauna and noodle restaurants also open to locals with the cash to spend on cheap drinks – he said it was him, and that he “must’ve dropped it.”
Fowle said at the time the bible had “fallen out of his pocket” when using the squat toilet, but the bible was too big to be pocket-sized, the source said.
While North Korea technically espouses freedom of religion it is ranked as one of the world’s most oppressive regimes in terms of such freedom. Pyongyang has dismissed recent reports on its oppression of religion as an attempt by the United States to “tarnish the image” of the isolated country.
Two months before Fowle visited North Korea, Australian missionary John Short had been arrested for leaving bible tracts at areas open to tourists in the isolated country. Short, 75, was released on account of his advanced age after state media released a written apology.
Fowle appeared in an Associated Press video on Friday alongside Miller, who was arrested for ripping up his tourist visa and attempting to claim political asylum, according to state media.
North Korea has three U.S. citizens in custody, including Kenneth Bae, a missionary of Korean descent who was arrested in November 2012 and convicted and sentenced to 15 years hard labour last year.
Chongjin is one of the most sensitive cities open to tourists visiting North Korea. The scene for much of journalist Barbara Demmick’s ‘Nothing to Envy’ book, based on a collection of interviews, it is the very epitome of the grim, grey Orwellian North Korea recalled by defectors.
“They don’t mess about in Chongjin,” one tourism source with experience of working in the city said.
If Fowle had hidden a bible anywhere else in North Korea, he probably wouldn’t have been arrested, sources in the North Korean tourist industry said. Sources working in North Korea are often forced to remain anonymous when talking to the press for fear of state reprisal or loss of business.
If the staff at the Seamen’s Club who found the bible had told Fowle’s guides, and not the authorities, they might have avoided the arrest too, the source familiar with his arrest said.
Fowle hid the bible on May 4. He later admitted to the group that he had left it there deliberately, for “someone to read.”
The rest of Fowle’s group didn’t talk to him when they heard what he had done. They felt he had put them in danger.
After the incident, Fowle had two days of normal sightseeing in Pyongyang, where he took photos of large bronze statues of North Korea’s former leaders, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.
He was arrested on May 7, once he cleared customs at Pyongyang’s Sunan airport.
UPDATE 6 (2014-6-30): KCNA (see also here) reports the following:
Suspicions about Hostile Acts by American against DPRK Confirmed
Pyongyang, June 30 (KCNA) — The Korean Central News Agency made public the following report on Monday:
The relevant organ of the DPRK has made investigation into American tourists Miller Matthew Todd and Jeffrey Edward Fowle who were detained while perpetrating hostile acts after entering the territory of the DPRK.
According to the results of the investigation, suspicions about their hostile acts have been confirmed by evidence and their testimonies.
The relevant organ of the DPRK is carrying on the investigation into them and making preparations for bringing them before court on the basis of the already confirmed charges.
Contact with an official looking after consular affairs, treatment, etc. in the course of investigation are being made in line with the laws of the relevant country.
Here is coverage of the announcement in the Wall Street Journal,
Reuters offers this helpful summary of related events:
HAPHAZARD LEGAL SYSTEM
North Korea’s haphazard and inconsistent legal system makes it difficult to predict the outcome for the detained tourists.
It has detained and then released other Americans in the past year, including Korean War veteran Merrill Newman, whom it expelled last December after a month-long detention based on accusations of war crimes related to his service history.
Australian missionary John Short was arrested in February this year for leaving copies of bible verses at various tourist sites during his stay. Short, 75, and Newman, 86, were released on account of their advanced age and health condition, state media said in the wake of published confessions from the two men.
Another U.S. national, Kenneth Bae, a Christian missionary who had been arrested in November 2012, was convicted and sentenced by North Korea’s supreme court to 15 years hard labor last year.
Pyongyang has detained a number of U.S. citizens in the past, using them to extract visits by high-profile figures, including former U.S. President Bill Clinton who in 2009 helped secure the release of two U.S. journalists who had secretly entered the country by crossing into the country from China.
The journalists, Laura Ling and Korean-American Euna Lee, were released after being tried by a city court in Pyongyang and given a ten-year hard labor sentence.
But North Korea has twice canceled visits by Robert King, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, to discuss Bae’s case.
UPDATE 5 (2014-6-8): Jonathan Cheng writes more information about Mr. Fowle in the Wall Street Journal:
Jeffrey Edward Fowle, the American citizen detained by North Korea, is a municipal road-maintenance man from southwestern Ohio with a globe-trotting past.
Mr. Fowle, who was arrested by North Korea after arriving for a tour on Apr. 29, is a 56-year-old resident of Miamisburg, Ohio, a city of about 20,000 residents on the outskirts of Dayton. He attends church in nearby West Carrollton, Ohio, and repairs streets for Moraine, Ohio, population 6,307.
But Mr. Fowle’s small-town roots belied a keen interest for the wider world. Before venturing into North Korea, Mr. Fowle made regular trips to Russia with his wife and traveled to war-torn Sarajevo in early 1997, less than a year after the four-year siege of the Bosnian city was lifted.
Timothy Tepe, a Cincinnati lawyer who represents Mr. Fowle’s family, said Mr. Fowle wasn’t on a mission for Urbancrest Baptist Church in Lebanon, Ohio, where he attended church. Mr. Tepe didn’t immediately reply to requests for further comment.
Joseph Shihady, a pastor at Bethel Baptist Church in West Carrollton, where Mr. Fowle attended services on Sundays and Wednesday evenings, said Mr. Fowle traveled to North Korea as a tourist.
“He’s a fine fellow, and we’re praying that he’ll get home safely,” Mr. Shihady said. “We know he’s in danger, and we’re concerned for him.”
In Washington, the State Department said that it was aware of reports about a third U.S. citizen who had been detained in North Korea, but declined to offer more details.
Mr. Fowle and his Russian immigrant wife live with their three children and the wife’s mother, according to a September 2010 interview with Mr. Fowle by the Dayton Daily News.
WHIO, a Dayton-based CBS affiliate, on Saturday cited a family friend as saying that Mr. Fowle’s wife had tried to dissuade him from going to North Korea, calling it too dangerous.
During his eight-day trip to the former Yugoslavia in 1997, Mr. Fowle spent four days in downtown Sarajevo with a Muslim family whose apartment walls were scarred by shrapnel following a missile attack, according to an earlier interview Mr. Fowle gave to the Dayton Daily News.
Nearly two decades later, Mr. Fowle finds himself at the center of a diplomatic tangle. Rep. Michael Turner (R., Ohio), which represents Mr. Fowle’s town, said in a statement that he was “deeply troubled” that Mr. Fowle had been held.
Late last month, North Korea sentenced a Christian missionary from South Korea, Kim Jung-wook, to a life of hard labor, following his October arrest on charges of working to overthrow the regime. Seoul had pleaded for his release.
UPDATE 4 (2014-6-6): WDNT in Ohio has some information on Mr. Fowle and a photo of him and his family.
The Christian Science Monitor has more.
UPDATE 3 (2014-6-6): Choe Sang-hun and Rick Gladstone report in the New York Times that Mr Fowle is a “A municipal worker from Ohio on a tour of North Korea”.
The Korean Central News Agency provided no further details about Mr. Fowle but local media in the Dayton, Ohio, area said that he was a 56-year-old municipal worker in the suburb of Moraine and had a wife and three children. The website of the Dayton Daily News said the Moraine city manager, David Hicks, had described him as a longtime employee. Telephone messages left on Mr. Fowle’s home telephone answering machine and with Mr. Hicks’s office were not returned.
UPDATE 2 (2014-6-6): The Guardian reports (via other sources) that Mr. Fowle was being detained for leaving a Bible in his hotel room.
Jonathan Cheng reports in the Wall Street Journal.
UPDATE 1 (2014-6-6): According to KCNA:
American Citizen Detained in DPRK
Pyongyang, June 6 (KCNA) — American citizen Jeffrey Edward Fowle entered the DPRK as a tourist on April 29 and acted in violation of the DPRK law, contrary to the purpose of tourism during his stay.
A relevant organ of the DPRK detained him and is investigating him.
ORIGINAL POST (2014-6-5): According to Reuters:
North Korea detained another U.S. citizen in mid-May, bringing the total to three currently being held in the country, Japan’s Kyodo news agency said on Friday, quoting diplomatic sources.
The man was part of a tour group who was detained just before he was set to leave the country, according to the sources.
In April, the North said it had detained an American, Matthew Todd Miller, who had arranged a private tour of the country through a U.S. company. North Korea is also holding Kenneth Bae, a Korean American missionary who was arrested in 2012 and has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor on charges of state subversion.