By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BEIJING/PYONGYANG (BosNewsLife)– North Korea has released an elderly Christian missionary who was jailed for promoting Christianity in the isolated Communist-run nation after he allegedly “apologized” for his actions.
John Short, 75, arrived at China’s Beijing airport Monday, March 3, where he was picked up by an Australian embassy vehicle, witnesses said.
Short did not speak to reporters but his wife, Karen Short, told media earlier that her husband was detained in North Korea’s capital Pyongyang February 16, while openly expressing his Christian faith during what was his second mission trip to North Korea.
“He won’t be intimidated by the communists,” she said at the time.
Missionary Short was accused by North Korea’s regime of committing a crime by distributing tracts from the Bible at a Buddhist temple in Pyongyang on the country’s late leader Kim Jong Il’s birthday.
North Korea released a picture of an alleged handwritten confession by the elderly man who was arrested last month.
“I deeply apologize for what I have done by spreading my Bible tracts on February 16th the birthday of his Excellency Kim Jong Il,” Short said in the confession released by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and dated March 1.
It was not immediately clear whether the apology was genuine or had been made under duress.
During his detention, Australian officials reportedly were in constant communication with the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang, which was apparently in contact with North Korean officials.
While rights activists have welcomed his release, they point out that at least two other foreign missionaries are still held in North Korea. “While we are overjoyed with John’s release, we cannot forget that…American Kenneth Bae and South Korean Kim Jeong-wook, remain imprisoned in the North”, said Ryan Morgan, East Asia manager for advocacy group International Christian Concern.
Kim, who was detained in North Korea in October, was paraded in front of television cameras last week to say that he sought to establish underground churches while operating under the orders of South Korea’s intelligence agency.
The missionary, wearing a dark suit and in apparent good health, read the statement which detailed a number of his alleged “anti-government activities”. No questions were taken at the event, footage of which was broadcast on South Korean television.
Additionally, the country has also held Bae for more than a year and convicted him of “trying to overthrow” the government.
A North Korean court sentenced the American missionary to 15 years’ hard labor and efforts by Washington to secure his release have so far failed.
Additionally, “We can also not forget the millions of North Koreans who, for more than half a century, have faced unimaginable persecution because of their religious beliefs and continue to do so today,” said Morgan in a statement to BosNewsLife.
Many of them are persecuted for remaining faithful to their faith in Christ and refusing to show “total devotion” of the individual to an ideology promoted by the late leader Kim Il Sung, according to rights activists.
Christian rights groups suggest the foreign missionaries are among at least some 100,000 Christians trapped in the country’s notorious prison camps, though some suggest that figure may be several times higher.
In the camps, Christians reportedly face torture, forced labor and possible execution.