Amid news of the release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five high-level Taliban leaders, North Korea announced that it had arrested yet another American without indicating what crime the American had committed.
According to the nation’s Korean Central News Agency, Jeffrey Edward Fowle was arrested for “act[ing] in violation of DPRK law” after entering the country as a tourist. The government did not provide any other details than the fact that Fowle appeared to be behaving “contrary to the purpose of tourism during his stay.”
“There is no greater priority for us than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad. We have no additional information to share at this time,” a State Department official said to the Associated Press.
Little to no information has surfaced yet on who Fowle is or what he was doing in North Korea. He is said to have entered North Korea on April 29 with a tour group, and the government has only alleged that he is being investigated for violating North Korean law. The New York Times is reporting that a Japanese news agency has alleged that Fowle was arrested in May after leaving a Bible in his hotel room, which would indicate an arrest for religious evangelism. If so, he would join Kenneth Bae, a U.S. citizen detained for allegedly organizing efforts to overthrow the North Korean government from China. While details surrounding the Bae arrest are unclear, Bae was known to be a devout Christian, and there have been reports that he was carrying a Bible or some religious literature when arrested.
North Korea’s repression of Christianity has gained notoriety as reports increase of repression against Christians in the nominally atheist country. In March, reports surfaced that 33 Christians had been sentenced to death for attempting to establish an underground network of Christians in the country. The group was accused of trying to organize up to 500 underground churches across North Korea.
In addition to Fowle and Bae, an American named Matthew Miller was arrested in April for “alleged inappropriate behavior,” according to the Associated Press. Reports claim Miller was attempt to seek asylum in North Korea.