WASHINGTON (AP) — American detainee Jeffrey Fowle has been released from North Korea, nearly six months after he was taken into custody, the State Department said Tuesday. Two other Americans who have been tried and convicted of crimes in North Korea are still being held.
Fowle, 56, of West Carrollton, had been awaiting trial on charges of leaving a Bible at a nightclub in the northern port city of Chongjin last May. He was flown out of North Korea on a U.S. government jet that was spotted Tuesday by Associated Press journalists at Pyongyang’s international airport. The Swedish government helped negotiate Fowle’s release.
The U.S. State Department says Fowle was checked by a doctor and is said to be in good health. We’re told the plane he was on board in North Korea landed in Guam. His exact location is unknown.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said it was a positive decision by North Korea to release Fowle. He urged Pyongyang to release the other Americans, Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller.
“The U.S. will continue to work actively on them,” he said.
Earnest said the Defense Department had provided transportation to Fowle on a schedule that the North had specified. He said Sweden had helped facilitate Fowle’s release. The U.S. doesn’t have formal diplomatic relations with North Korea.
State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Fowle was on his way home to his family. “We welcome the DPRK’s decision to release him,” she said in a statement, using the abbreviation for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Harf also thanked Sweden for “tireless efforts” by its embassy in Pyongyang. She provided no other details about the Swedish government’s involvement.
Washington has repeatedly tried to send a high-level representative to North Korea to seek release of the three men. Pyongyang had refused as recently as last month, according to Robert King, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues.
The three Americans entered North Korea separately. In interviews last month with the AP, all three said they believed the only solution to their situation was for a U.S. representative to come to North Korea to make a direct appeal.
Fowle arrived in North Korea on April 29 and was arrested in May for leaving a Bible at the nightclub. Christian evangelism is considered a crime in North Korea. Fowle is an equipment operator for the city of Moraine, Ohio, and has a wife and three children. His wife is from Russia and had made a written appeal on her husband’s behalf to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The City of Moraine recently said it released Fowle from their employment, but he does have the right to re-apply.
Congressman Mike Turner realeased a statement Tuesday afternoon:
“Today, Jeffrey Fowle was safely released from North Korean captivity. Months ago, I contacted former Congressman and Ambassador Tony Hall for his expertise in dealing with North Korea and he agreed to offer any possible assistance to bring about Fowle’s release. I would like to thank Ambassador Hall for his tireless efforts to free Jefrey Fowle. Further, I would like to thank the U.S. State Department for their diligent work in bringing Jeffrey home to his family. I look forward to welcoming him back to our Southwest Ohio Community.”
Senator Rob Portman also released a statement:
“I’m pleased that Jeffrey Fowle is returning home to his family and can close the chapter on a horrific ordeal in North Korea,” Portman stated. “Throughout Mr. Fowle’s detainment, I worked with the State Department and many other entities to bring him home and I thank them for their diligence. North Korea is a country with egregious human rights violations and it’s important that the U.S. continue to stand for the rights of all people, including religious freedoms, at home and abroad. My prayers are with Mr. Fowle and his family as he makes the transition home.”