COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - An Ohio man imprisoned for nearly six months in North Korea arrived home early Wednesday morning.
Jeffrey Fowle, 56, was unexpectedly released by North Korea Tuesday, and the U.S. plane carrying him landed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base to take Fowle back to his family.
Fowle was detained in May for leaving a Bible at a bar, and any attempt or action to promote Christian messages by an outsider is considered a crime in North Korea.
Dr. Tom Dolan, a political professor at Columbus State University, spoke about the significance of Fowle being imprisoned for leaving a Bible and being released.
"This act made North Korea look good in the world press, and it also made North Korea fell god about itself," Dr. Dolan explained. "This allows North Korea to present itself as a very compassionate and humanitarian country."
Two other Americans are currently detained in North Korea. Kenneth Bae lead tours into North Korea from China, and he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in 2013. Matthew Miller was sentenced to six years of hard labor for tearing up his visa card and committing hostile acts to the country while visiting in April.
"I hate to appear to be complicit with other governments, but we just don't bring those freedoms with us," Dr. Dolan said. "We have a tremendous amount of freedom in this country. It's a blessing, but it's dangerous for people to take these ideas and promote these things without respecting their government when people are visiting places like North Korea."
Dr. Dolan said it's still important for people to visit places to share knowledge and culture.
"I visited North Korea for a eight days a few years ago," Dr. Dolan recalled. "People in North Korea are used to their government's customs, and they feel frightened and angry when outsiders try to interfere with what they are comfortable with."
Dr. Dolan said he visited a Christian church approved by the government in Pyongyang. He said pastors wore badges of Kim Il Sung on their left chests.
"It shows that a man can serve two masters," Dr. Dolan said. "They had more than 300 people attend that church. They had Bibles in Korean and English. However, there is a large amount of underground churches where people who freely want to practice Christianity attend. I was told about 14,000 North Koreas are Christians and about 10,000 are Buddhist. You would assume Buddhism is more common in East Asian countries, but it wasn't the case in North Korea. While Christian Evangelism is considered a crime, many people continue to do it in North Korea in secrecy."
Dr. Dolan said releasing Fowle showed North Korea's willingness to cooperate with America with some issues as well as give hope to the families of Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller on their release.
"The fact that the U.S. is making any dealing with any positive dealings is significant," Dr. Dolan explained. "We had Kim Jong-Un disappear for weeks, and you had a surprise visit from some North Koreans down to Incheon in South Korea for the Asian games. I don't think Kim Jong-Un's regime is ruined at all. His release of Fowle was a response to our government's repeated requests for Fowle to be freed, so this allows North Korea to be seen as calling the shots."