PYONGYANG — North Korean officials have freed a missionary who was arrested last month for distributing Gospel literature in the country.
As previously reported, John Short, 75, who has lived in Hong Kong for 50 years, was arrested in his Pyongyang hotel on February 16, a day after arriving in the North Korean capital.
“[John] was carrying Korean literature on his person and that could be the reason, but I don’t know,” John’s wife Karen told The Associated Press in an early interview.
According to later reports, Short’s travel partner Wang Chong stated that Short left Gospel literature in a Buddhist temple during a tour. Authorities had been later notified by the local tour company Short was traveling with since the action breaches North Korean laws of spreading religious materials.
Short was released after he read a written confession of guilt, which some have characterized as being forced or staged.
“I deeply apologize for what I have done by spreading my Bible tracts on February 16th the birthday of his Excellency Kim Jong Il,” he stated, according to the North Korean outlet KCNA. “I realize that the mass media of the USA and the western countries who say that the DPRK is the closed country and has no religious freedoms is inaccurate and wrong.”
“I knew that my actions would offend the independent right and be against the law of the DPRK,” Short said. “I wanted more Korean people to be Christians. Therefore, I secretly spread Bible tracts written by me.”
As short left the country on Monday and arrived in Beijing, he became tearful as he spoke to reporters.
“I’m really, really tired,” he said, according to The Guardian.
Short’s wife expressed relief at his release, which was extraordinary considering that many prisoners are held much longer.
“I’m so thankful; God has been with us in this,” she said. “It’s been quite an ordeal. He needs a few days to pause and think about what’s happened.”
According to a biography on Gospel Attract, Short, who is from Barmers, South Australia, has been arrested numerous times for his evangelism efforts in China. Short was banned from entering China for nearly two years after his second arrest in 1996. Authorities, however, let him back in and he was arrested several more times for “speaking out about the brutality against Chinese Christians.”
Short’s arrest comes more than a year after North Korea arrested American missionary Kenneth Bae. Bae was found guilty after being accused of committing “hostile acts” against the North and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. Despite pressure from the U.S., Bae remains in custody.
While North Korea’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion, only sanctioned services are tolerated by the government while distribution of religious materials is strictly forbidden.