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.
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.
Travel Warning to North Korea
On May 20, the U.S. Department of State strongly recommended against all travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This update replaced a Nov. 19, 2013, travel warning regarding the risk of arbitrary arrests and detention of U.S. citizens.
Some of the warnings include:
- U.S. tourists with valid visas have been subjected to arbitrary arrest and long-term detention.
- In the past 18 months, North Korea detained several U.S. citizens who were part of organized tours.
- North Korea has detained and imposed heavy fines on people who violated laws, such as attempting to contact private citizens without government authorization.
- North Korean security personnel may regard as espionage unauthorized or unescorted travel inside the country and unauthorized attempts to speak directly to its citizens.
- North Korean may fine, detain or arrest travelers for exchanging currency with an unauthorized vendor, for taking unauthorized photographs, or for shopping at stores not designated for foreigners.
- It is a criminal act in North Korea to show disrespect to the country’s former leaders, Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung, or to the current leader, Kim Jong Un.
- If North Korea authorities permit tourist to keep their cell phone, they have no right to privacy and should assume your communications are monitored.
- It is a criminal act to bring printed or electronic media criticizing the government. If you bring electronic media, including USB drives, CD-ROMs, DVDs, or laptops, into the country, you must assume that North Korean authorities will review the information on those devices. Please be sure that the information contained on those devices does not violate the laws or regulations of the DPRK, as penalties for knowingly or unknowingly violating North Korea’s laws are much harsher than U.S. penalties for similar offenses.
- Sentences for crimes can include years of detention in hard labor camps or death.