John Short, 75, who has lived in Hong Kong for 50 years, was arrested in his Pyongyang hotel, 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.
Mrs. Short said the trip was her husband’s second to North Korea.
“He won’t be intimidated by the Communists,” she said in an interview with Reuters. Karen stated that her husband has been open with North Korean officials about his faith and even read his Bible in front of government guides during his first trip to the Communist country.
“I know he’s courageous and he’s in God’s hands,” his wife said. “There’s risk involved. He knew that too, but when you know what you must do, you do it.”
“It’s not an open country and it doesn’t welcome Christians — yes, we realize that,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean we stand by and don’t do anything because we care for the situation and we pray about it but sometimes you have to do more than talk.”
According to a biography on the website Gospel Attract, Short who is from Barmers, South Australia, had 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.”
John’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.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it has asked the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang to confirm Short’s wellbeing and whereabouts.