OFFICIALS in North Korea yesterday deported an Australian missionary detained for spreading Christianity in the country, saying he apologised for his anti-state religious acts and requested forgiveness.
Authorities in North Korea had arrested John Short for secretly spreading Bible tracts near a Buddhist temple in Pyongyang on 16 February, the birthday of late leader Kim Jong Il, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.
The report said that Mr Short, 75, admitted that he had committed a crime that hurt the Korean people’s trust in their leaders and that he apologised for his behaviour. “I now realise the seriousness of my insult to the Korean people on February 16th because I made the Korean people angry and for this I truly apologise,” Short was quoted as saying in a written apology, according to a separate KCNA report.
He is said to have added: “I am willing to bow down on my knees to request this tolerance of North Korea and the Korean people.” KCNA said North Korea decided to expel him in part out of consideration for his age.
After Mr Short was flown to Beijing he declined to speak to reporters, saying he was too tired. He was escorted to a vehicle from the Australian Embassy.
“Clearly this is welcome news for Mr Short, his family and his supporters,” Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement.
“Australian consular officials stand ready to provide assistance to Mr Short to ensure he can return to his home in Hong Kong as soon as possible.”
North Korea’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but in practice only sanctioned services are tolerated by the government.
Defectors from the country have said that the distribution of Bibles and secret prayer services can mean banishment to a labour camp, or even execution.
North Korea typically frees foreign detainees after they have admitted their crimes, but many say after their releases that their confessions were given involuntarily and under duress. Last week, North Korea presented to the media a detained South Korean Baptist missionary who apologised for allegedly trying to reach Pyongyang with Bibles, Christian instructional materials and films in October. North Korea has been holding a Korean-American missionary, Kenneth Bae, since November 2012. Bae, sentenced to 15 years of hard labour for hostile acts, held a similar news conference to apologise for his behaviour.
KCNA posted a video on its website showing a calm-looking Mr Short, dressed in a black jacket, reading what appears to be his written apology before taking a quick bow towards the room.
Kim Jong Il’s birthday and that of his father and North Korea founder Kim Il Sung are the nation’s biggest holidays. Kim Jong Il died in late 2011 and his son Kim Jong Un took over power.
Mr Short, from Barmera, South Australia state, has been arrested multiple times while evangelising in mainland China, according to a biography on a Christian website, Gospel Attract.
He was banned from entering China for nearly two years after his second arrest in 1996. Authorities later let him back in and he was arrested several more times for “speaking out about the brutality against Chinese Christians,” said the site.
Short has lived in Hong Kong for 50 years.
According to the written apology published by the KCNA, Mr Short said he also visited North Korea in August 2012 to spread Bible tracts.