Holiday at the Dictator’s Guesthouse
Jeffrey Edward Fowle is an American citizen arrested in North Korea in May 2014 for leaving a Bible in a nightclub in the northern port city of Chongjin.
On the morning of August 1, 2014, Jeffrey Fowle woke before seven in his room at a guesthouse in Pyongyang, North Korea. Soon a young woman arrived with his breakfast of rice, broth, and kimchi. She smiled as she set the tray down on the large desk at the foot of the bed, then walked out of the room and locked the door behind her. It was Fowle’s 87th day in custody.
He sat at the desk, watching a shadow play across his window. An opaque vinyl film had been applied to the glass, so Fowle could see only silhouettes walking past. That April, when Fowle had travelled to Pyongyang, he’d felt that God wanted him to help North Korea’s oppressed Christian underground. His attempt took the form of a Korean-English Bible, left behind in a bar bathroom; he was taken into custody as he tried to leave the country. Fowle poured the broth over his rice and began to eat.
An hour later, Mr. Jo, Fowle’s interpreter and minder, appeared at the door: His slacks were ironed, and he’d traded his usual polo shirt for a crisp dress shirt. “Today is the day,” Mr. Jo said. “Be ready.”
A few weeks earlier, Mr. Jo had told Fowle that he might be allowed to speak with international media. It would be his first chance to tell the world about his situation, and to remind the U.S. government that he needed help. At noon, Mr. Jo led Fowle to a conference room on the other side of the guesthouse, reminding him of his talking points along the way.
“Emphasize your desperation for wanting to get home and that your family needs you back,” Mr. Jo said. “Put some emotion into it.” He suggested that it might be good if Fowle cried. In the conference room, Fowle was seated at a long table with a couple of North Korean journalists from the Associated Press Television News. Instead of press badges, each reporter wore a pin with the smiling face of Kim Il-sung.