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The Yellow Ribbon Project


Ohio resident Jeffrey Fowle and his family

The State Department is offering little information on the circumstances surrounding two American tourists captured by the North Korean government, saying they’re concerned about the men as they face trial in Pyongyang.

“American citizen Jeffrey Edward Fowle entered the DPRK as a tourist on April 29 and acted in violation of the DPRK law, contrary to the purpose of tourism during his stay,” the official Korean Central News Agency reported on June 6. “A relevant organ of the DPRK detained him and is investigating him.”

Fowle, 56, is from Miamisburg, Ohio, and works in street maintenance. His family’s lawyer said in a statement last month that he “loves to travel and loves the adventure of experiencing different cultures and seeing new places.”

Matthew Miller, 24, was reportedly arrested earlier while  traveling with a private guide contracted by Uri Tours. “A relevant organ of the DPRK put in custody American Miller Matthew Todd, 24, on April 10 for his rash behavior in the course of going through formalities for entry into the DPRK to tour it,” reported KCNA at the time.

Miller allegedly ripped up his tourist visa and declared he would “seek asylum” and “shelter” in the DPRK, the KCNA claimed.

Little is known about Miller. Uri Tours said that they were not able to reach the emergency contact listed on his travel application, but eventually Miller’s family got in touch with the company.

“As of last month, we believed Mr. Miller was in good health, and we have not heard otherwise. In addition, Mr. Miller’s family has reached out to us. However, they have requested that we keep the details of our communications private,” the company said in a Tuesday statement. “We have no other specific updates at this time.”

Uri Tours staff last saw Miller in Beijing, where they “saw him off to Pyongyang.”

“We cannot speak to Mr. Miller’s motivations or mental state. He did not express any special intentions in his tour application,” the company said. “…Our local partners informed us immediately of the situation with Mr. Miller and have expressed a great deal of concern.”

The State Department warns against all travel to the reclusive communist country, but tour groups offer trips for the curious. New Jersey-based Uri Tours is the exclusive American ticketing agent for Air Koryo, North Korea’s state-owned carrier.

“Travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea is not routine, and U.S. citizen tourists have been subject to arbitrary arrest and long-term detention. North Korean authorities have arrested U.S. citizens who entered the DPRK legally on valid DPRK visas as well as U.S. citizens who accidentally crossed into DPRK territory,” says the most recent U.S. government warning, issued in May. “The Department of State has also received reports of DPRK authorities arbitrarily detaining U.S. citizens without charges and not allowing them to depart the country. In the past 18 months, North Korea detained several U.S. citizens who were part of organized tours.”

“Do not assume that joining a group tour or use of a tour guide will prevent your arrest or detention by North Korean authorities. Efforts by private tour operators to prevent or resolve past detentions of U.S. citizens in the DPRK have not succeeded in gaining their release.”

Uri Tours, which said Fowle was not with their group, said “regarding how these recent detentions affect travel to the DPRK, safety is our highest priority and we continue to take all necessary precautions in running our tours.”

“However, we believe that Mr. Miller’s detention is a rare and isolated occurrence, and we continue to operate our tours at this time. We have since had several tours in the country and all of our tourists (many Americans included) have returned home safely.”

Pyongyang said Monday that the government would put Fowle and Miller on trial.

“The relevant organ of the DPRK has made investigation into American tourists Miller Matthew Todd and Jeffrey Edward Fowle who were detained while perpetrating hostile acts after entering the territory of the DPRK,” KCNA reported, styling Miller’s name in Korean convention.

“According to the results of the investigation, suspicions about their hostile acts have been confirmed by evidence and their testimonies,” the news agency continued. “The relevant organ of the DPRK is carrying on the investigation into them and making preparations for bringing them before court on the basis of the already confirmed charges.”

“Contact with an official looking after consular affairs, treatment, etc. in the course of investigation are being made in line with the laws of the relevant country.”

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday that they were “aware” that the two U.S. citizens would be facing trial in North Korea.

“There’s no greater priority for us than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad. Out of humanitarian concern for Mr. Fowle and Mr. Miller and their families, we request North Korea release them so they may return home. We also request North Korea pardon Kenneth Bae and grant him special amnesty and immediate release so he may reunite with his family and seek medical care,” Psaki said.

Envoys from the Swedish Embassy visited Fowle on June 20 and Miller on May 9 and June 21.

Psaki tangled with a reporter who sought more information about the case since the families had signed privacy waivers allowing the State Department to confirm the detainees’ names and talk about their cases. “We make decisions about what information is appropriate to provide in the best interests of citizens who are detained overseas,” she said.

Reports have indicated that Fowle was arrested after a Bible was discovered in his hotel room.

A devout Christian, Bae, sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor last year, thought he could help suffering North Koreans in part by leading a tour company in the special economic zones that would help reveal the people’s plight.

“I think we are focused on the health and safety and well-being of United States citizens wherever they are in the world, and we take every step to ensure they either are returned home or they are safe,” Psaki responded. “We have consular access. You know how we feel about freedom of religion and freedom of – and being able to express that.”

Psaki was asked today why Pyongyang has decided to try the men now, as the North has been test-firing missiles and has warned that the October release of the comedy The Interview, in which Seth Rogen and James Franco play journalists recruited by the CIA to assassinate Kim Jong-un, would be an “act of war.”

“I think there’s a shared concern by the United States, by other countries in the region about the bellicose rhetoric and the threats posed by North Korea,” Psaki said. “And we’re certainly concerned by the reports of yet another round of provocative weapons launches, the third in a week. These launches are intended to unilaterally heighten tensions in the region. They’ll not provide North Korea or the North Korean people with the prosperity and security it claims to seek.”

“And it’s long been the case that the ball is in North Korea’s court to change their relationship with the international community. It’s not in ours; it’s in their court. But clearly, actions like those of this past week don’t help them take steps forward in that regard.”

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All Comments   (9)
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The Miller kid seems like a pretty easy case to figure out. Probably some sort of anti-anxiety prescription drug flameout. Asking for political asylum is one thing (which would be quickly denied) but ripping up an official government document? That's plain crazy.
The Fowle case is far more interesting. To travel to the DPRK and stay there for a week, costs about $4000 - $5000. I seriously doubt this fellow has that kind of money to blow when he has a family and likely makes less than $50K per year. Therefore, someone paid for his trip. Who? Furthermore, it's just out of character for a husband and father to leave his family behind while he stakes a solo vacation - to the DPRK, of all places.
It's almost a given that independent tour companies work extremely closely with DPRK State Security to flag tourists who might not be "real tourists". Journalists and troublemakers and poverty porn addicts. For the above two reasons, and others besides, Fowle was flagged as someone who may have connections to anti-DPRK "human rights" groups. When he cleared customs, this guy was probably tracked ten ways from Sunday. If he did attempt to make contact with someone inside north Korea and exchange portable digital media, they knew about it. What I find most significant is that security personnel pulled Fowle off the plane after he was boarded and in his seat. That seems to indicate that he was taking material out of the DPRK. If that's the case, he's really screwed. He's looking at 15 years anyway. The Miller kid was a knucklehead and he'll get bounced out in a year. They'll probably keep him around for the potato harvest because they need all the help they can get. Fowle is a municipal street worker in Marion, Ohio, so the DPRK will probably take advantage of his skills and put him to work making road gravel. Take one big rock and make lots of little rocks. One bucket of gravel equals one bowl of rice. With two buckets, you get fish and on Sundays, a turnip.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
When Psaki announces that the ball is in NK's court, she is simply repeating the standard disclaimer of the Obama administration for every international difficulty -- no fault, no responsibility, no plan, and as little presence as the mainstream media will let him get away with.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Look, I know state debt people & they are certainly NOT best & brightest. They are nearly all liberal democrats & they despise Christians. When a Christian is arrested overseas in some dictatorship, their attitude is, "well, they deserved it." You won't see 'em lift nary a finger to help these poor people. Neither will they help the US Marine in Mexican prison. The can't stand military people & think that every gun owner is a nut. Believe me, we have seen 'em in action 1st hand in foreign countries & this is just how they work. Once, they allowed a group to distribute condoms to people at a 4th of July celebration where American ex-pats were invited. The parents of young children, as we were at the time, were outraged. But the Ambassador thought it was all fine & dandy. That is how they work.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Who goes to NK on vacation? Geez.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
North Korea is a wonderful place to visit. Just mind your manners. The rules are few and simple to understand. Just like any other country, stay out of their religion and politics. I don't care what country you visit, if you get into a political discussion, you are going to get you head handed to you. The nicer you are to north Koreans, the nicer they are to you. But that's true anywhere you visit. Just be nice. Don't be a typical Obama-American and try to tell other people how to run their affairs. The entire world hates Obama. That should be your first clue. Be nice.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Was there a new video on youtube?
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
NoKo is one place I don't want to visit.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
How can anyone, anyone at all, want to be the spokes-"person" for our august State Department is beyond understanding.
It is a punishing assignment.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
"You know how we feel about freedom of religion and freedom of – and being able to express that."

Translation: Islam good, everything else really, really, really, REALLY bad.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
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