Jeffrey Fowle, an American who was arrested in North Korea in May for leaving a Bible at his hotel, has been released and is on his way home to rejoin his family, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest confirmed Tuesday. Unauthorized religious activity is forbidden by the totalitarian regime, which it considers a threat to its power.
Fowle's family said in June that the Ohio father of three was on vacation in the reclusive state when he was detained and accused of acts "contrary to the purpose of tourism," according to NBC News.
"We welcome the DPRK's decision," said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf in a statement. "While this is a positive decision by the DPRK, we remain focused on the continued detention of Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller" -- two other Americans arrested in North Korea -- "and again call on the DPRK to immediately release them."
The release of Fowle, 56, was secured by Sweden, whose embassy in Pyongyang acts as an intermediary for the United States, which has no formal diplomatic relationship with the oppressive North Korean government or its leader, Kim Jong-un.
"As a condition of his release, the DPRK authorities asked the United States Government to transport Mr. Fowle out of the country," Harf said. "The Department of Defense was able to provide transportation for Mr. Fowle in the time frame specified by the DPRK. We will provide additional details about Mr. Fowle's return home as we are able to do so."
Bae, a Christian missionary, was detained in November 2012 and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor as punishment for an alleged conspiracy against the North Korean government. The details surrounding Miller’s alleged crime are less clear. When Miller, Fowle and Bae were allowed to speak to CNN for brief interviews in September, which were monitored by North Korean officials, Miller said "I deliberately committed my crime," but would not elaborate. He called his situation “very urgent” and said "I think this interview is my final chance to push the American government into helping me.”
Some analysts have suggested North Korea, which is believed to have nuclear weapons, is trying to use the detainees as bargaining chips for negotiations with the West.