An American tourist is being detained in North Korea after he was discovered to have left a copy of the Bible in a hotel room, reports state.
According to reports, the tourist, identified in English as Jeffrey Fowle, has been held since mid-May, but North and South Korean news outlets first released the information today.
“The U.S. citizen, who entered the DPRK (North Korea) on April 29 as a tourist, engaged in activities that were in breach of DPRK’s laws,” wrote the country’s official Korean Central News Agency.
It outlined that Fowle had left the Bible in a hotel room just as he was about to leave the country, and that he was was questioned for suspicions of using his visit as a tourist inappropriately.
The U.S. State Department has confirmed that a U.S. citizen is being held in North Korea, but will not attest to Fowle’s identity over privacy concerns.
“There is no greater priority for us than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad,” spokesperson Marie Harf told USA Today.
As previously reported, North Korean officials also detained an elderly missionary for leaving Christian material in a Buddhist temple during his visit. John Short, 75, of Hong Kong was released after he read a written confession of guilt, which some have characterized as being forced or staged.
“I deeply apologize for what I have done by spreading my Bible tracts on February 16th the birthday of his Excellency Kim Jong Il,” he stated, according to the North Korean outlet KCNA. “I wanted more Korean people to be Christians. Therefore, I secretly spread Bible tracts written by me.”
American Kenneth Bae, who operates a Washington-based tourist company, was likewise arrested not far from the city of Yanji in November 2012, where some Christian groups provide aid to North Korean refugees. It is stated that Bae has made a number of trips to North Korea to assist orphaned children.
While the exact reason for his charges of committing “hostile [and religious] acts to bring down the government” has not been made known, some organizations speculate that Bae may be in trouble for taking pictures that the government found threatening.
“The most plausible scenario I can think of is that he took some pictures of the orphans, and the North Korean authorities considered that an act of anti-North Korean propaganda,” said Do Hee-youn of the Citizens’ Coalition for the Human Rights of North Korean Refugees.
A video released by CNN earlier this year showed Bae allegedly admitting to violating North Korean law, but some are skeptical about the admission.
“I know that what I did cannot be forgiven, but my wish is for this to be solved as soon as possible and meet my family,” he stated.
Bae remains in North Korean custody, and reports from his family state that Bae’s health has been failing.
Photo: David Eardmans