LEBANON, Ohio — The wife and three children of an American man charged with “anti-state” crimes in North Korea apologized Tuesday to the communist country and pleaded for its government to show him mercy, saying in a statement they’re “desperate for his release and return home.”
The family of Jeffrey Edward Fowle, 56, of Miamisburg in southwestern Ohio, appeared at a news conference at the office of an attorney and family friend acting as their spokesman. The family members did not speak and sat quietly and downcast as the attorney, Tim Tepe, read their statement and answered questions from reporters.
Tepe said Fowle’s 40-year-old wife, Tatyana, and the children are struggling to get by financially without their husband and father, the sole bread winner. Fowle works in a city streets department and told his family in a recent phone call that he fears that his job benefits will run out soon, Tepe said.
“The kids miss their dad, that’s the bottom line,” Tepe said. “(Tatyana) is having to be mom and dad at this point for the past three months. ... I hear the desperation in her voice to get Jeff home.
“My heart breaks for them,” Tepe said.
Tatyana Fowle has written to President Barack Obama, asking for his intervention, as have the children, 9-year-old Stephanie, 11-year-old Chris and 13-year-old Alex. The family also has written to three former presidents – George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter – and asked them to intercede.
Tepe said only Bush has responded to those letters but that the family has gotten help from Sen. Rob Portman, Rep. Michael Turner and former Congressman and U.S. diplomat Tony Hall, whom they most recently spoke with on Tuesday.
Tepe said the family wouldn’t address reporters Tuesday because they don’t want to inadvertently compromise Fowle’s situation.
“We certainly don’t want to say the wrong thing, as you can imagine,” he said. “We’re just being overly cautious.”
Fowle was detained sometime after he arrived in North Korea on April 29 for what the country said are hostile acts that violated his tourist status. He is suspected of leaving a Bible in a nightclub in the northern port city of Chongjin.
Tepe has said Fowle was not on a mission for his church, that he was in North Korea on vacation as part of a tour and “loves the adventure of experiencing different cultures and seeing new places.”
North Korea has said authorities are preparing to bring Fowle and another American detainee, 24-year-old Matthew Todd Miller, of Bakersfield, California, before a court, but it hasn’t 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.
In a recent interview with an Associated Press video crew, Fowle said he fears his situation will worsen with a trial.
“The horizon for me is pretty dark,” Fowle said on Aug. 1. “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 U.S., which has no diplomatic ties with North Korea and no embassy there, has repeatedly offered to send its envoy for North Korean human rights issues, Robert King, to Pyongyang to seek a pardon for U.S. detainees.
Though a small number of U.S. citizens visit North Korea each year as tourists, the State Department strongly advises against it. After Miller’s detention, Washington, D.C., updated its travel warning to note that over the past 18 months, “North Korea detained several U.S. citizens who were part of organized tours.”
A State Department official on Tuesday reiterated the agency’s previous comments about Fowle that “there is no greater priority for us than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad” and that U.S. officials are in regular, close coordination with representatives from the Swedish Embassy, which handles consular matters for the U.S. in North Korea.
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