A worst-case scenario is playing out for two Americans in North Korea, and it's anybody's guess when they'll see home again. That's because North Korea is planning to indict two American citizens in retribution for alleged "hostile acts," as announced by their state-run media outlet, KCNA. The two men, 56-year-old Jeffrey Fowle, and 24-year-old Matthew Miller, now face the harrowing possibility of detention within the totalitarian country. It's a nightmare that one other prominent prisoner knows all too well — American Kenneth Bae, who's been held in North Korea doing hard physical labor for over a year, and is sentenced to do so for 14 more.
What precisely constitutes a "hostile act," especially in a hyper-repressive state like North Korea, is a somewhat opaque question. According to KCNA, Miller arrived via airplane in early April, then promptly destroyed his tourist visa and demanded asylum. Whether this is true or not is tough to say, considering KCNA isn't an impartial player in North Korean affairs.
Fowle, on the other hand, has been detained on very similar claims to those made about Bae — that he was a Christian trying to spread his faith in North Korea, an officially atheist state which reveres its dictators, essentially, as gods on Earth. Japanese media outlet Kyodo News has reported that Fowle left a Bible behind in a hotel room he stayed in, spurring the detention by authorities.
Despite being referred to as a "hermit kingdom" for its intense, self-imposed isolation, it isn't as impossible for an American to get into North Korea as it once was. There are now companies which offer tourist trips there, Koryo Tours and Uri Tours in particular. It was by these commercial means that Miller and Fowle arrived in North Korea, but now, it's anybody's guess when they'll be able to get out. It's risks like these that cause the U.S. State Department to urge against "all travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea," and frankly, that sounds like good advice.
As harsh as landing in jail is anywhere in the world would be, facing imprisonment in North Korea is a unique horror. At its very worst, the state operates a system of multiple concentration camps, where starvation, death and public executions are the norm. It's a huge part of why a recent UN report compared the atrocities of North Korea to those of Nazi Germany.