Two American tourists charged with “anti-state” crimes in the Democratic People’s Republic of 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 DPRK 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.”
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. North Korea says the two committed hostile acts which violated their status as tourists. It has announced that authorities are preparing to bring them before a court, but has not yet specified what they did that was considered hostile or illegal, or what kind of punishment they might face. The date of the trial has not been announced.
Fowle arrived in the country on April 29th. 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. Fowle works in a city streets department. He has a wife and three children, ages 9, 10, and 12.
“The window is closing on that process. It will be coming relatively soon, maybe within a month,” Fowle said of his trial. “I’m anxious to get home, I’m sure all of us are.”
Fowle also produced a letter he said he had written summarizing his experience in North Korea. Less is known about Miller, or about what specific crime he allegedly committed.
The DPRK’s state-run media have said the 24-year-old entered the country April 10th with a tourist visa, but tore it up at the airport and shouted that he wanted to seek asylum. A large number of Western tourists visited Pyongyang in April to run in the annual Pyongyang Marathon or attend related events. Miller came at that time, but tour organizers say he was not planning to join the marathon.
“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.
This report has been compiled with inputs from the Associated Press.