2 jailed in N. Korea plead for U.S. help
Posted: August 2, 2014 at 3:43 a.m.
PYONGYANG, North Korea -- Two American tourists charged with "anti-state" crimes in North Korea said Friday that they expect to be tried soon and pleaded for help from the U.S. government to secure their release from what they say could be long prison terms.
In their first appearance since being detained more than three months ago, Matthew Todd Miller and Jeffrey Edward Fowle said they were in good health and were being treated well. They also said they were allowed to take daily walks. The brief meeting with an AP Television News crew was conducted under the condition that the specific location not be disclosed.
Fowle said he fears his situation will get much worse once he goes on trial.
"The horizon for me is pretty dark," he said. "I don't know what the worst-case scenario would be, but I need help to extricate myself from this situation. I ask the government for help in that regards."
North Korea said the two committed hostile acts that violated their status as tourists. It has been announced that authorities are preparing to take them before a court, but the government has not yet specified what the two did that was considered hostile or illegal, or what kind of punishment they might face. The date of the trial has not been announced.
Ri Tong II, a North Korean diplomat, declined to answer questions about the Americans at a news conference Friday at the United Nations. But when pressed in a follow-up question he said their cases were "legal issues" and they had "violated our law."
Fowle arrived in North Korea on April 29. He is suspected of leaving a Bible in a nightclub in the northern port city of Chongjin, but a spokesman for Fowle's family said the 56-year-old from Miamisburg, Ohio, was not on a mission for his church. Fowle works in a city streets department. He has a wife and three children, ages 9, 10 and 12.
"The window is closing on that process. It will be coming relatively soon, maybe within a month," Fowle said of his trial. "I'm anxious to get home, I'm sure all of us are."
North Korea's state-run media have said Miller, 24, entered the country April 10 with a tourist visa but tore it up at the airport and shouted that he wanted to seek asylum.
"I expect soon I will be going to trial for my crime and be sent to prison," Miller said. "I have been requesting help from the American government, but have received no reply."
North Korea has also been holding another American, Kenneth Bae, since November 2012.
Bae, a Korean-American missionary who turned 46 on Friday, told a Japan-based pro-North Korea news organization earlier this week that he felt "abandoned" by the U.S. government. He is serving a sentence of 15 years of hard labor for what North Korea has claimed were hostile acts against the state.
U.S. State Department spokesman Marie Harf said Thursday that the agency is in regular contact with Bae's family.
Last summer, authorities moved Bae from a work camp to a hospital because of failing health and weight loss. He was sent back to the work camp earlier this year, only to be taken again to a hospital less than two months later. His family said he suffers from diabetes, an enlarged heart, liver problems and back pain.
Bae's sister, Terri Chung, said in a statement Thursday that his statement this week was the first they had heard from Bae since April.
"After months of silence, it is devastating to hear Kenneth talk about feeling abandoned by the United States government," she said. "Although we acknowledge and appreciate all the efforts the U.S. State Department has been making behind the scenes to secure Kenneth's release, the fact remains that after almost two years, Kenneth still remains imprisoned in North Korea."
The U.S. has repeatedly offered to send its envoy for North Korean human-rights issues, Robert King, to Pyongyang to seek a pardon for Bae and other U.S. detainees but without success. Both Fowle and Miller suggested that intervention from the highest levels in Washington -- possibly a visit by a former president -- might be needed to gain their release.
Washington has no diplomatic ties with North Korea and no embassy in Pyongyang. Instead, the Swedish Embassy takes responsibility for U.S. consular affairs there.
Though a small number of U.S. citizens visit North Korea each year as tourists, the State Department strongly advises against it. After Miller's detention, Washington updated its travel warning to note that over the past 18 months, "North Korea detained several U.S. citizens who were part of organized tours."
North Korea has been strongly pushing tourism lately in an effort to bring in foreign cash.
Information for this article was contributed by Trenton Daniel and Dan Sewell of The Associated Press.
A Section on 08/02/2014