An American tourist who was arrested in North Korea in May after leaving a Bible at his hotel has been released and is en route home, US officials said Tuesday.
Jeffrey Fowle, 56, a father of three from Ohio, was flown from North Korea aboard a US military plane to a US naval base in Guam, said Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman. It was not immediately clear when he would continue his trip, but he has been seen by a doctor, she said.
North Korea demanded as a condition of his release that the American government transport Fowle out of the country within a certain "time frame," Harf said. She declined to be more specific about how much time was allowed or what other efforts were required to secure his release.
"We welcome the DPRK's decision to release him," said Harf, using the acronym for the Stalinist country's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
"While this is a positive decision by the DPRK, we remain focused on the continued detention of Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller and again call on the DPRK to immediately release them," Harf added. "The US government will continue to work actively on their cases."
Bae, a Korean-American tour operator, has been held by North Korea for almost two years. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for religious activities allegedly aimed at undermining the North Korean government.
Miller, 24, was arrested in April. He was accused of attempted espionage and recently sentenced to six years of hard labour. He allegedly tore up his tourist visa and sought asylum when he entered the country.
North Korea, which is subject to international financial sanctions, courts tourism as a source of hard currency. Visitors are typically kept on a tight leash, escorted to monuments extolling the ruling Kim family and otherwise isolated from citizens.
Fowle's release comes after all three American detainees were interviewed by the Associated Press and by CNN last month.
In the CNN interview, which was monitored and recorded by North Korean officials, Fowle said he had no complaints about his treatment since his arrest. He said the charges against him stemmed "from me trying to leave a Bible." Fowle's lawyer, however, said he was there on vacation.
"It's a covert act and a violation of tourists' rules," Fowle told CNN of the Bible he left in his hotel room. "I've admitted my guilt to the government and signed a statement to that effect, and requested forgiveness from the people and the government of the DPRK."
All three detained Americans told CNN that they were pleading with the US government to help get them out. Fowle was the only one who had not been sentenced to prison.
The State Department on Tuesday thanked the Swedish government, whose embassy in Pyongyang represents US interests in North Korea.
Carol Morello – The Washington Post
Washington Post staff writer Katie Zezima contributed to this report.
Image: THE CITY OF MORAINE / AFP / Lehtikuva