Jeffrey Fowle, one of three Americans detained by the North Korean government, was released on Tuesday and is on his way home to Ohio, according to the U.S. State Department. Fowle, a 56-year-old city service worker from Miamisburg, Ohio, was arrested and held by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea for five months after he left a Bible behind in the country that has little to no toleration for missionary activity.
Fowle visited North Korea on a 10-day tourist trip with a group of other travelers. He wrote his name, contact information and inserted photos of himself and his family in a Korean-English Bible before leaving it under a receptacle in the Seamen’s Club in Chongjin, according to a source close to the case. A worker who found the Bible reported him to police. North Korean officials arrested Fowle for “anti-state” crimes “contrary to the purpose of tourism.”
Chongjin is known as the “City of Iron” and is one of the more politically pro-government cities in the country, according to Reuters. It houses both a "reeducation" camp and a political prison camp. If the Seamen’s Club staff instead had alerted the North Korean guides or if Fowle had hidden the Bible in a less politically fervent city, he might have gotten off. The act was considered out of character for Fowle, who was noted as not being overly religious and known as a soft-spoken man.
Fowle spoke with CNN in an exclusive interview on Sept. 1 and urged anyone with clout to intervene, including former presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush. Fowle admitted his guilt in writing and asked for leniency. He said he had been treated well up until that point, but said he was “getting desperate for help.”
There are two other Americans, Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller, currently in detention in North Korea. Bae, a 44-year-old Evangelical Christian, is serving a 15-year sentence for charges that he was part of a plan to overthrow the North Korean government. Miller, 24, was convicted of “hostile acts” for ripping up his passport and reportedly seeking asylum after crossing the border. State-run media said Miller wanted to serve prison time there to expose human rights violations. Fowle told CNN he had no contact with either Bae or Miller.
It's unclear what negotiations took place to secure Fowle’s release, but North Korea often uses detainees as bargaining chips with foreign governments. State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said the State Department “welcomes” the decision to release Fowle, but remains “focused on the continued detention of Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller and again call on the D.P.R.K. to immediately release them.”
She also thanked the “tireless efforts of the Embassy of Sweden in Pyongyang,” which advocates on behalf of the U.S. government there, but did not elaborate on Swedish delegation's role in Fowle's release.