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Family of West Carrollton man detained in North Korea keep low profile

Jeffrey Edward Fowle is known as a devoted father, a beloved husband and a world traveler who loves adventure, but none of those descriptions provided insight as to why the North Korea government has detained him since early May on allegations he “acted in violation of the DPRK law, contrary to the purpose of tourism during his stay.”

On Monday, Fowle’s wife of 14 years, Tanya, and the couple’s lawyer, Timothy N. Tepe, met briefly with the media and, without taking questions, issued a statement about his detention, which is gaining international attention since Fowle is now the third American held in custody by Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The statement said Fowle “was traveling to North Korea on vacation as part of a tour,” and that he “loves to travel and loves the adventure of experiencing different cultures and seeing new places.”

“Mrs. Fowle and the children miss Jeffrey very much and are anxious for his return home,” the statement said.

It thanked the Swedish Embassy, which acts on behalf of U.S. interests in North Korea, “for their continuing efforts on Jeff’s behalf… (and) those around the world who have offered their support during this difficult time.” The United States and North Korea have no diplomatic relations.

The Swedish Embassy declined to comment Monday night if it has been in contact with Fowle and their efforts to secure his freedom. It has referred all questions to the U.S. Department of State, which confirmed Friday that an unnamed American citizen is being held by North Korea. The State Department did not provide any new updates Monday concerning Fowle’s status.

Request privacy

Tanya Fowle did not speak, and Tepe declined to comment beyond the statement, which also “requests that their privacy be respected in the days to come.” The Fowles have two sons, ages 12 and 1o, and a daughter, 8.

There was no mention of Japanese news reports that Fowle had left a Bible in his hotel room, which may have played a role in the North Korean government’s decision to detain him, possibly on suspicions that he was a Christian proselytizer, according to the New York Times.

Fowle was believed to have been detained as he was about to depart from the country in mid-May after a two-week organized tour.

‘Not many people get in to see’ North Korea

Former Democratic congressman Tony Hall of Dayton, who has traveled to North Korea on eight occasions, said Monday he has taken an interest in the case. He said he telephoned Pak Kil-yon, the North Korean ambassador to the United Nations, to ask about Fowle. Hall, who knows Pak, a former North Korean ambassador to Canada, said the North Korean diplomat did not have “a lot of details.”

“I asked him if there was anything I could do,” Hall said.

Hall said Fowle “leaving a Bible in a room is not a big deal and shouldn’t be a big deal. What they have charged him with is very general and could mean any number of things. You don’t know about North Korea and what they mean sometimes. One of the biggest problems, it truly is a country in which not many people get in to see. We don’t have a relationship. We don’t have a consul. We don’t have an embassy there.”

3rd American held

North Korea is known to be holding at least two other U.S. citizens: Kenneth Bae, 45, a Korean-American missionary, sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in April 2013 after he had been accused of trying to establish a secret proselytizing network in the country; and Matthew Todd Miller, 24, described by North Korea’s state-run press as an asylum seeker who destroyed his tourist visa upon arriving in Pyongyang on April 10.

Fowle’s plight has been mentioned during Sunday services at Bethel Baptist Church on Wilson Park Drive in West Carrollton, where he has attended services for nearly five years, said Pastor Joseph Shihady.

“We’re concerned for him greatly,” he said, added that Fowle is “a fine fellow.”

Shihady said the church became aware of the situation shortly after he was taken captive in May. The congregation has not been involved in any activities to aid Fowle’s release because, “we don’t think they would help his situation,” he said.

“We’re praying for him,” Shihady said. “I don’t know that there’s anything else we can do for him at this point.”

He said he has spoken with Fowle’s wife, who remains in good spirits.

“She’s doing pretty good,” he said. “…Of course, she’s concerned about her husband.”

Family opts for low profile

Saying little or nothing at this point may be Fowle’s best hope for eventual freedom, said Laura Luehrmann, a Wright State University associate professor of political science.

“I think it’s rather smart, actually, that they’re keeping a very low profile,” she said.

She did not know if the family was being counseled by the State Department, but Luehrmann said they are surely concerned about North Korea using Fowle as a “bargaining chip.” A public campaign at this point could very well backfire, she believes.

“I don’t know if they’re being instructed, but I think it is very wise,” she said. “North Korea is a country trying to get attention.”

Without diplomatic negotiations, she noted, “I just think all these situations are extremely delicate, and they need to be handled very carefully.”

Staff writer Jack Torry contributed to this report.

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