SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – An American tourist accused by North Korea of committing a crime and detained there has been identified as an Ohio father considered a good Christian devoted to his Russian immigrant wife.
The state Korean Central News Agency said Friday that Jeffrey Edward Fowle was being investigated for acts inconsistent with a tourist visit. It did not specify the crime or give details.
A spokesman for Fowle’s family, Cincinnati attorney Timothy Tepe, confirmed that North Korea had detained Fowle, who has three children and a home in Miamisburg, in the southwest part of the state. Tepe said the Fowle family would issue a statement on Monday and not comment until then, “given the sensitive nature of Jeff’s situation.”
“This is a very fluid situation that has just come to light, and they need time to process it,” Tepe said.
Tepe said Fowle, 56, was not on a mission for his church, Urbancrest Baptist Church in Lebanon, and was just visiting North Korea as a tourist.
In March, North Korea deported an Australian missionary detained for spreading Christianity there after he apologized for anti-state religious acts and requested forgiveness.
A man who attends Fowle’s church, Mark Edward Howard, described him as “a very good Christian father, a very loving father to his children.”
He said that Fowle’s wife, Tatyana Fowle, 40, is a Russian immigrant who speaks broken English and that Fowle always stayed close to her side in case she needed a translation.
“They are pretty much inseparable,” he said. “You never see him not by her side. They’re a very nice family.”
In a statement, U.S. Rep. Michael Turner, a Dayton Republican, said he was “deeply troubled by the detainment of American and Miamisburg resident Jeffery Edward Fowle, by the authoritarian government of North Korea.”
“We have been in contact with the State Department and will continue to carefully monitor Fowle’s detainment as we await the release of additional information,” he said.
The U.S. Department of State confirmed an American was detained but did not identify the person or provide details for privacy reasons. Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said there’s “no greater priority for us than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad.”
Harf did not say whether Sweden, which handles consular matters for Americans in North Korea, had been granted access to the detained American. She said that the department has a warning against travel to North Korea and that being part of a tour group will not prevent a possible arrest.
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