To his friends and family in Miamisburg, Ohio, Jeffrey Fowle is a mild-mannered father of three. But today he is behind bars in North Korea, accused of having left a Bible in a public restroom while in the country. Fowle, 56, will soon stand trial if the U.S. government is not able to arrange for his release.
“The horizon for me is pretty dark,” Fowle recently told The Associated Press.
“I don't know what the worst-case scenario would be, but I need help to extricate myself from this situation. I ask the government for help in that regards,” he said.
Fowle was arrested May 7 by North Korean authorities just before he boarded a plane leaving the country.
They said that three days earlier Fowle and his tour group were eating and drinking at a club in the country’s northern city of Chongjin. While there, the authorities allege, Fowle wrapped an English-Korean Bible in newspaper and hid it under a trash bin in the club’s bathroom.
Reuters reports it remains unclear why Fowle left the Bible. He initially said it must have fallen out of his pocket while using the toilet, but sources familiar with the case have said the book was too large to have been placed in a pocket. Fowle also reportedly told members of his tour group that he left it there deliberately for “someone to read.”
His family, however, denies that he is a religious missionary of any kind.
Fowle is being held with another American, Matthew Todd Miller, who will also soon stand trial for a separate incident.
Less is known about Miller’s case, but it is known that the 24-year-old was arrested in April after tearing up his tourist visa in a North Korean airport and shouting that he wanted to seek asylum.
“I expect soon I will be going to trial for my crime and be sent to prison,” Miller said. “I have been requesting help from the American government, but have received no reply.”
News reports indicate that the two men are charged with “anti-state” crimes.
North Korean diplomat, Ri Tong II, was asked at a United Nations news conference Friday to comment on the two cases. He refused to do so but when pressed said simply that the cases were “legal issues” and that the two men had “violated our law.”
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