PYONGYANG, North Korea — An American tourist in North Korea who has been held in the country for the past six months for allegedly leaving a Bible in the restroom of a seaman’s club has now been released and returned to the United States.
As previously reported, Jeffrey Fowle, 56, of Miamisburg, Ohio has been held since mid-May on suspicion of using his visit as a tourist inappropriately. Experts state that the North Korean government may have viewed the act of leaving the Bible at the Chongjin Seaman’s Club as Christian proselytization, which is forbidden in the country.
Last month, Fowle spoke to reporters briefly about his condition in North Korea and requested that the United States work harder for his release.
“I’m good for the time being, but I need to let people know that I’m getting desperate. I’m getting desperate for help,” he said. “You guys should convey my desperate situation.”
Fowler suggested that former Presidents Bill Clinton or George W. Bush serve as envoys to negotiate his release.
“I’ve got a wife and three elementary school-aged kids that depend on me for support,” he stated.
Reports state that the Swedish government was instrumental in negotiating Fowler’s release, as it has an embassy in North Korea and represents the United States in the country.
“We can confirm that Jeffrey Fowle has been allowed to depart the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] and is on his way home to re-join his family,” U.S. State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf said in a statement on Tuesday.
Bethel Baptist Church in West Carrollton, the congregation that Fowle attends, also issued a statement, remarking that it “rejoices in the news that Jeff has been released and is on his way home.”
The White House says that while they are thankful for Fowle’s release, they are also mindful of the other Americans that remain in captivity in the nation.
“We certainly welcome the decision from the D.P.R.K. to release him,” remarked Press Secretary Josh Earnest. “While this was a positive decision by the D.P.R.K., we remain focused on the continued detention of Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller and again call on the D.P.R.K. to immediately release them.”
As previously reported, Bae, who operates a tourist company in Washington state, was 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, Bae was sentenced to 15 years hard labor. He has been struggling with his health while serving his sentence, which includes eight hour work days six days a week.
“I’ve been going back and forth between hospital and to the labor camp for the last year and a half,” Bae stated during an interview with CNN last month. “My hands are numb and tingling, and it’s difficult sleeping at night, and I was working in the field every day.”
“I’ve been asking the American government to act upon getting me released here,” Bae continued. “I do believe that a special envoy needs to come in order to resolve the situation I am in right now.”
Photo: CNN screenshot