Two American tourists charged with “anti-state” crimes in North Korea said Friday 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 told a North Korean AP Television News crew that they were in good health and were being treated well. They also said they were allowed to take daily walks. The brief meeting 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.”
The date of the trial has not been announced. It was not clear whether they were speaking on their own initiative, or if their comments were coerced. The TV crew was permitted to ask them questions.
Fowle arrived in the country 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.
Less is known about Miller, or about what specific crime he allegedly committed. North Korea’s state-run media have said the 24-year-old 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 Korean 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.
Bae’s sister, Terri Chung, said in a statement Thursday it was the first word the family has had of 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.”
North Korea has in the past waited for senior U.S. officials to come to the country to secure the release of some American detainees. 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.
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.
Despite its North Korea efforts to bring in more visitors — mostly from neighboring China — it remains highly sensitive to any actions it considers political and is particularly wary of anything it deems to be Christian proselytizing. In March, North Korea deported an Australian missionary detained for spreading Christianity in the country after he apologized and requested forgiveness.