Detained American in N.Korea makes fresh plea for help

One of three Americans detained in North Korea has made a fresh plea for his government’s help ahead of a trial that will likely end with a lengthy prison term and hard labour.

In an interview published Thursday by the pro- North Korean Japanese newspaper Chosun Sinbo, Jeffrey Fowle said he was extremely “anxious” that he would share the fate of his already tried and jailed fellow detainees — Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller.

Fowle, 56, entered the North in April and was detained after apparently leaving a Bible in the bathroom of a nightclub in the northern port of Chongjin.

Although religious freedom is enshrined in the North Korean constitution, it does not exist in practice and religious activity is severely restricted to officially-recognised groups linked to the government.

The authorities have said Fowle will be tried for “perpetrating hostile acts” but no date has yet been set.

In his interview on Tuesday with the Tokyo-based newspaper, Fowle did not detail his alleged offence but acknowledged it had been “thoroughly prepared.”

“I feel so anxious that I will be punished for my offence once the trial opens,” he was quoted as saying.

“I hope that the US government will make constructive efforts to secure our release.

“As an American citizen, I am left with no choice but to plea for help from the US government,” he said.

His plea came two weeks after Miller was sentenced to six years’ hard labour by the North Korean Supreme Court.

The 24-year-old was arrested in April after he allegedly ripped up his visa at immigration and demanded asylum.

The third detainee, 42-year-old Korean American Kenneth Bae, was arrested in November 2012 and later sentenced to 15 years’ hard labour.

Bae was accused of being a militant Christian evangelist and charged with seeking to topple the regime.

All three men have pleaded for the US government to secure their release in a series of interviews — including with US media outlets.

Washington has condemned what it says is a clear case of Pyongyang using the detainees as political hostages to extract diplomatic concessions.

The nuclear-armed North wants a resumption of stalled six-party negotiations, but the United States and South Korea insist it must first show a tangible commitment to denuclearisation.

Washington has offered to send a number of envoys to negotiate the Americans’ release, but Pyongyang has rejected each one.

Observers say the North is holding out for a high-profile visit. Former US presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton have both travelled to Pyongyang in the past to secure the release of detained US citizens.