Just days after I posted an urge to the US State Department to do more to secure the release of Kenneth Bae, it looks like there may now be a second American citizen slated to share in Mr. Bae’s fate.
Last night, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), a state-run North Korean news outlet, announced that a second American citizen — Jeffrey Edward Fowle — has been detained in North Korea. Fowle entered North Korea on April 29 with a private tour group but was arrested from his group for “perpetrat[ing] activities that violated the laws of [North Korea’s] republic”, according to KCNA. CNN cites Japanese news agency Kyodo reports that Fowle was arrested for leaving a bible in his hotel room, citing anonymous sources. That report has not been confirmed elsewhere.
Kenneth Bae was sentenced to 15 years hard labour after taking pictures of starving North Korean orphans — the North Korean government alleges Bae was also using his North Korean tourism company to support the country’s network of underground Christian churches and as part of an “underground railroad” to help refugees flee the country. According to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, North Korea views Christianity as a “serious threat” that subverts the totalitarian regime of the government.
Bae has been languishing since November 2012 in a North Korean prison camp where he is likely suffering starvation, abuse and torture, leading to a significant deterioration in his health.
The United States has no direct diplomatic relations with North Korea, instead depending upon the Swedish Embassy to negotiate for human rights on the behalf of American citizens like Bae. The Swedish ambassador has twice been turned away by North Korea when he attempted to visit to discuss Bae’s condition, and the United States federal government has failed to do much more.
A third American citizen is also currently being held in North Korea. Miller Matthew Todd was taken into custody on April 10th upon entering North Korea as a tourist, when he ripped up his tourist visa at the border and demanded asylum. Todd is currently under investigation.