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 Miamisburg, Ohio, 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.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said it was a positive decision by North Korea to release Fowle, but called on 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 timeline 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 its “tireless efforts” by its embassy in Pyongyang. She provided no other details about the Swedish government’s involvement but said the North Koreans had asked that the U.S. provide transportation for Fowle’s departure.
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 men said they believe the only solution to their situation is 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 a hairstylist from Russia who has made a written appeal on Fowle’s behalf to Russian President Vladimir Putin.