Analysis: Fowle Was North Korea's Easiest US Case

The Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO), October 22, 2014 | Go to article overview

Analysis: Fowle Was North Korea's Easiest US Case


PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) -- Why did North Korea free Jeffrey Fowle, and only him, when two other Americans remain in prison there? Probably because Pyongyang considered him the most minor of the three offenders, and may believe that releasing him could improve abysmal U.S. relations and even temper growing international criticism of its human-rights record.

Fowle was not accused of espionage or "hostile acts," as the other Americans were. The 56-year-old was detained for six months for leaving a Bible in a nightclub in the city of Chongjin, where he was visiting with a foreign tour group.

He was flown out of North Korea on Tuesday, on a U.S. military jet that two Associated Press journalists spotted at Pyongyang's international airport. He was whisked to the U.S. territory of Guam before reuniting with his family early Wednesday at an Air Force base in Ohio.

His release follows a number of appeals recently from the North Korean government for Washington to take steps to resolve the matter. As part of its campaign to keep the issue on Washington's radar, Pyongyang allowed Fowle and the other two detainees to meet with the AP and other media several times to discuss their predicament and plea for help from their government.

Fowle, whose case never went to trial, said he left the Bible at the nightclub on an impulse, and later regretted it. Christian evangelism can lead to harsh punishment and even prison time in North Korea, but Fowle was not seen as having planned out any larger, systematic attempt to violate North Korean laws.

That is not the case with Matthew Miller and Kenneth Bae, who are serving lengthy sentences.

U.S. officials had no immediate comment on whether any progress toward releasing Miller or Bae has been made.

The North's official Korean Central News Agency said Fowle's release was a "special measure" by leader Kim Jong Un, "taking into consideration the repeated requests" of President Barack Obama. The KCNA report provided no updates on the other two men.

Miller, who like Fowle entered the country on a tourist visa, ripped up the document at Pyongyang's airport on April 10 and demanded asylum. But North Korean authorities claim he intended to conduct espionage. He was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison. During his brief trial six weeks ago, North Korean prosecutors said he admitted to the "wild ambition" of experiencing prison life so that he could secretly investigate North Korea's human rights situation.

Late last month, he told the AP he was digging in fields eight hours a day and being kept in isolation.

Bae, 46, has been held since November 2012, when he was detained while leading a tour group in a special North Korean economic zone. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison for "hostile acts" after being accused of smuggling in inflammatory literature and trying to establish a base for anti-government activities at a border city hotel. Bae is a Korean-American missionary, and his family believes he was detained because of his Christian faith.

Bae is suffering from chronic health issues, including back pain, diabetes, an enlarged heart and liver problems. …

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