Ohio municipal worker unlikely pawn in US-North Korea chess game

Video courtesy of USA Today

(RNS) Jeffrey Fowle, released by North Korea on Tuesday (Oct. 21), is an unlikely figure to find himself at the center of diplomatic tensions: a 56-year-old municipal worker from Ohio and father of three.

Fowle, of Miamisburg, Ohio, was arrested by North Korean authorities in May as he was attempting to leave the country after visiting with a tourist group. He acknowledged leaving a Korean-English Bible in the restroom of a North Korean restaurant and nightclub in the coastal city of Chongjin several days earlier.

The official North Korean news agency, KCNA, said he entered the country April 29 on a tourist visa and “acted in violation” of the country’s laws “contrary to the purpose of tourism during his stay.” North Korea does not allow religious proselytizing and treats it as a crime.

Those who know Fowle say he was driven by a taste for adventure rather than religion or politics.

“Jeffrey loves to travel and loves the adventure of experiencing different cultures and seeing new places,” his attorney, Timothy Tepe, of Lebanon, Ohio, said in a statement earlier this year.

“Mrs. Fowle and the children miss Jeffrey very much and are anxious for his return home.”

Fowle is a municipal street worker in Moraine, Ohio, near Dayton. His wife, Tatyana, 40, is from Russia, and they have three children, two boys and a girl, ages 9, 10 and 12.

Mark Edward Howard, who attends the same church as Fowle and his family, called him “a very good Christian father.”

He said that Tatyana Fowle, a cosmetologist, has limited English and that her husband always stayed close to her side in case she needed a translator.

“They are pretty much inseparable,” he said in June. “You never see him not by her side. They’re a very nice family.”

In early September interviews with Western news organizations while being held, Fowle said he had been allowed to speak with his wife and children.

“I’m desperate to get back to them,” he said then.

According to a 2010 story in the Dayton Daily News, Fowle met his wife by correspondence and traveled to Russia for an in-person meeting.

Her mother later migrated from Russia to live with them after they married in 2000. They marked their 14th wedding anniversary on Sept. 30, while Fowle was being held prisoner.

He told the Dayton newspaper in 2010 that like every married couple, he and Tatyana disagree now and then. But he said they are deeply committed to each other. “We’re in it for the long haul,” Fowle said.

Fowle was classified as a $31-an-hour equipment operator. The city terminated his employment last month because he had exhausted his leave while being detained, but officials said he will be eligible for reinstatement.

(William M. Welch writes for USA Today.)



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  • If the Norks execute him for it, I would say it is a matter of Darwinian “thinning of the herd”. Some things are so dangerously stupid to do, that the only reaction is ridicule.

    Yes, it would be a terrible thing to be executed for doing something so harmless. But when one visits THE MOST REPRESSIVE COUNTRY ON THE PLANET, common sense says you do not intentionally irk the government when visiting as a tourist.

  • “He acknowledged leaving a Korean-English Bible in the restroom …”

    Didn’t this holy roller bible thumper
    know North Korea already has a Totalitarian Theocracy?

    Of course they outlaw other religions – they already have one.
    That is why it is the Dark Ages over there.

    If you want to spread peace to the world, argue against religion – not in favor of it. Religion always leads to Totalitarian Theocracy.
    1400 years of Dark Ages is enough.

  • Someone tell me I’m not the only one who is sickened by the atheists in the comments blaming the victim here.

  • The guy intentionally made himself a victim here. I save my sympathies for people who are caught up in events they could not control. He makes a mockery of the people suffering at the hands of the government there. Those people who literally risk life and limb to escape it.

    He went out of his way to travel to one of the most dangerous places on the planet for an American tourist. A place where people are routinely executed or put in slave labor camps for the most minor activities. He goes there to intentionally irk the government. A government which certainly was watching him and treating him with suspicion the minute he stepped foot on North Korean soil.

    He was a suicidal idiot. Fowle’s exploits trivializes the victims of the North Korean government.

    Try reading about Shin Dong-hyuk or watching the documentary “Camp 14: Total Control Zone”. Read about the people from Japan and South Korea who were abducted by the Norks and held for decades.

  • The “suicidal” thing he did was freaking leave a bible in a freaking hotel room but I’m not surprised you and Atheist Max are cheering on the imprisonment of Christians. For all you two whine about how horrible you’re treated by Christians, you seem to have no problems endorsing the persecution of Christians if they “deserve” it and you’re proving yourself to be just as closed minded horrible people as the fundamentalists. Only bigoted atheists would actually support North Korea on something.

  • I just find it laughable how atheist apologists are always trying to downplay the role atheism played in the communist persecution of Christians yet here we have two atheist apologists admitting they support communist persecution of Christians because in their minds, Christians deserve it.

  • @Neon,

    Nobody here is supporting persecution. Especially me.
    I support educating these ridiculous Christians who think their theocratic totalitarian solution to North Korea is better than the theocratic nonsense North Koreans already endure!!!
    These Christians are desperate for some crucial information! They are ignorant of their own absolutist claims (“be baptized and believe or be condemned”) vs. the current Regime (“believe in the Dear Leader or be condemned).

    1. North Korea is already totalitarian Theocracy. It is the perfectly religious totalitarian state.

    2. Theocracy such as North Korea has no interest in other theocratic ideas infiltrating them as in, “bring to me those enemies of mine and Execute them in front of me” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)

    3. If Christians don’t like North Korea (a religious, theocratic dictatorship) they should look at themselves in the mirror! Christianity is no different when it is allowed to be in total control of people.

    4. Christianity is TOTALITARIAN! from Birth through life and then death …AND BEYOND! “Thou shalt not covet” is a thought crime!

    5. Freedom means questioning authority! And there is no way to question the authority of North Korea – just as their is no way to question God.

    You claim to care about humanity, but wherever there is a god – there can be no humanity!

  • @Neon,

    “Only bigoted atheists….”

    Nonsense – I have no bigotry in me.
    If it is not bigoted to preach JESUS it CANNOT be bigoted to disparage Jesus.

    I am against Christianity – NOT Christians.
    I am against Lou Gherig’s disease – NOT Lou Gherig!

    If one does not want to be ridiculed, one should keep their ridiculous ideas to themselves. Christianity is as disastrous, inhuman and backward as North Korea’s worship of the Dear Leader!

    Freedom of speech does not exist in a religious realm – doubt itself is considered offensive and is blasphemous and heretical. So naturally you are offended that I disparage an idea you hold so dear.

    That is all you need to know about Christianity. And North Korea!

  • Yes he left it in a hotel room in North Korea not North Dakota. He knew it is the sort of thing which gets people imprisoned or killed there, but did it anyway. It was done intentionally to cause a ruckus. He went there to “tickle the bear”.

    I am not cheering his imprisonment, but I have no sympathy for him. He doesn’t deserve his fate for being Christian. He deserves it for being dangerously stupid. If you want to equate Christian belief with dangerous stupidity, by all means. I wasn’t going there.

    What is truly shameful is this “danger seeker” will get more world attention than a hundred defectors from North Korea who detail the horrors of that government. This “Christian” trivializes the real suffering going on by people in North Korea. He was a waste of diplomatic efforts.

  • You have no evidence Fowle was trying to establish a Christian theocracy. For you to paint all Christians as theocrats is slanderous and you’re a liar and a hypocrite.

  • I just find it laughable how Christians ignore the role of churches in supporting reactionary dictatorships. Its the main reason why revolutionaries usually attacked churches in their climb to power (organized Christianity tended to support the former dictators)

    North Korea was never a communist state. They are ruled by a hereditary dynastic leader revered as a deity. A kingdom with a godhead ruling it with unquestioned power. North Korea is the ultimate expression of religious based rulership.

    That being said, Fowles engenders the same level of sympathy one gets after being injured while frolicking with bear cubs, practicing juggling with high explosives or playing “taste the test tube” while working at the CDC Ebola wing.

  • What does Christianity have to do with the government of North Korea? It’s clear at this point that you and Atheist Max are just making stuff up to justify your blaming the victim because you and Atheist Max have your heads so far up your butts you can’t ever accept that a Christian might legitimately be discriminated against. It’s clear you and Atheist Max don’t care about truth and reality contrary to your constant supposed worship of the deity of “Reason” and that you’re just trying to justify your bigotry to Christians.

  • @Neon:

    HOW is this not a religion?
    The FAITH of North Korea

    Dear Leader has magical powers.
    Dear Leader demands constant worship.
    Dear Leader was born with birds singing in Korean.
    Dear Leader makes the sun come up (this is actually preached)
    Dear Leader decides who lives and dies.
    Dear Leader is God (actually taught in North Korea)

    How is this Atheism? It has a god, miracles, supernatural powers…what more do you need?

    Totalitarianism is Theocracy. All religions aspire to Total Control over the individual and the tools are fear and obedience.

    Islam: “Surrender”
    Christianity: “Salvation”
    Judaism: “The Chosen”

  • Neon,

    I did not claim more than what is reported.

    The only evidence we have is that he deliberately left a KOREAN Bible thinking he would convert some people to Christ – he is like all these other bible thumpers in Asia thinking more people need to hear about God’s Magical Suicide.

    He’s a sucker who thinks Jesus is good news when it is just another Totalitarian Theocratic idea.

    North Korea – being a totalitarian religion already – wants none of it.

  • @Neon,

    You said, “What does Christianity have to do with the government of North Korea?”

    Here are the connections:

    Christianity is a direct threat to North Korea.
    Christianity is an absolutist, Theocratic, Totalitarian idea which violates North Korean Theocracy. When there is already a theocracy, any other religion is considered a threat.

    North Korea is an absolutist religion – a Totalitarian Religious Regime.
    North Korea is not Atheist.

    A Christian who plans on prosylytizing in North Korea
    is like a Zionist walking into a Hezbollah meeting and asking everyone to consider what the Bible says about ‘The Covenant with the Israelites’

    It is hilariously wrong-headed. Religion is a joke.

  • So like I said, you and Larry are clearly blaming the victim here. The only joke I see here is you and Larry who think your opinions are more important that you have to spam every article on RNS with your anti-religious bigotry regardless of what the topic is actually about.

  • @Neon,

    “you and Larry are clearly blaming the victim here.”
    He’s not a victim. He’s an idiot who can’t figure out that he signed up to become a pawn in the Jesus Cult Infection Program.

    “you have to spam every article on RNS with your anti-religious bigotry regardless of what the topic is actually about.”

    1. Every topic at RNS is about RELIGION and I stay on that topic.
    2. I hate religion.
    3. I despise the way religion pretends to be about love (a genuine human need) when it is actually a con – it is all about conquest and power.
    4. It isn’t spam to rebut your Nonsense.
    5. I love being an Atheist and cannot wait to rip religion (as an idea) to pieces!
    6. I care tremendously about people, especially the poor Christians who are caught in this disgusting spell – and cannot stand that religion continues to destroy lives.*
    7. I LOVE arguing against this horrid Christian system of lies which had me in its grip for 44 years. There are millions who feel as I do and we are dumping religion and dumping ON religion for what it has done to us.

    You cannot defend Christianity without getting an earful from folks like me.

    You are free to believe in Jesus. Fine.
    But expect to be treated as if you are defending Nazism.

    SEPTEMBER 4, 2014

  • See? Homosexuality has nothing at all to do with what this article is talking about yet you bring it into the discussion anyway? Why? And I am gay man myself so I find hijacking of gay rights to justify your bigotry to be offense. We don’t need you to be a white knight.

  • @Neon,

    No. I did not change the subject – I am not changing the subject.
    I am not a ‘white knight’ defending gays.

    I am pointing out very precisely that religion is the enemy of freedom. This is directly relevant to the North Korea topic here.

    Religion is a fascist, totalitarian enterprise. It offers nothing but commands, fear and obedience. This silly man from ohio brought a BIBLE full of totalitarian, absolutist, inhuman nonsense into a country which already is run by EXACTLY such a system!

    And if it is not bigoted for you to call North Korea despicable – it cannot be bigoted for me to add that Christianity the same sort of despicable!

  • “What does Christianity have to do with the government of North Korea?”

    Competition for power.

    South Korea has one of the largest Christian populations percentage-wise in Asia with the exception of the Philippines. Christianity is seen directly as South Korean influence in the country. All dictatorships either subsume the religious apparatus or oppose it directly.

    The only one divorced from truth and reality is yourself. You try to make a martyr out of deliberate recklessness and ignore the real martyrs to liberty and freedom. Those long ignored people suffering every day under the yoke of the North Korean government. People who didn’t chose to go their as privileged tourists but are stuck eking out an existence there, worrying about the slightest misstep which could land them in a prison camp or executed. This “Christian” treated their condition as some kind of joke. Something to play dangerous games around and brag to his friends back home.

    I take the situation in North Korea far more seriously than you do. I also take it more personally than you do. [North Korea has a nasty habit of launching missiles in the proximity of my in-laws]

    You are just looking for some reason to treat this wannabe publicity hound with respect he did not deserve. All because you share the same faith.

  • He is a victim by his own choice. Of course I blame him. He minimizes and denigrates those people who have suffered under the weight of the North Korean oppression.

    Of course as an American he was able to skirt past the horrors of that regime with cute stories to tell his friends.

    Meanwhile people who have no choice but to risk their lives in order to leave are ignored. People who are eyewitnesses to the real horrors of that country get pushed aside for this punter in the public eye.

    Do you want to know who I have sympathy for? The North Korean immigrant families living in China. They risk certain death from law enforcement officials who still refuse to honor the nation’s treaty obligation not to deport people certain to be executed. One family was even snatched right out from the consulate grounds in Japan a while back.

  • “You are just looking for some reason to treat this wannabe publicity hound with respect he did not deserve. All because you share the same faith.”

    And you’re just being dismissive of the situation just because he’s a Christian but I can guarantee that if he was an atheist and he was arrested for leaving a copy of The God Delusion, you’d all be whining about how persecuted white male atheists are.