Australian Missionary Held in North Korea Had Religious Material

An Australian missionary was carrying Christian materials translated into Korean when he was detained in North Korea, his wife said.

The Feb. 18 detention of John Short, 75, was confirmed by the Australian foreign ministry yesterday and comes as the U.S. continues to push for the release of American missionary Kenneth Bae, who has been held in North Korea since late 2012. Neither Australia nor the U.S. have formal diplomatic relations with the North.

Short was prevented from returning to China, his wife Karen Short said by phone yesterday from the office of Christian Book Room, a Hong Kong-based group that seeks to spread the gospel in China.

“I hope they will release him,” she said. “He had Christian materials on him, which could be a reason.”

The arrest came a day after a United Nations commission published a report on human rights abuses in North Korea that said there is “almost complete denial” of freedom of religion and expression’’ in the country.

“The state considers the spread of Christianity a particularly serious threat, since it challenges ideologically the official personality cult and provides a platform for social and political organization and interaction outside the realm of the state,” the commission of inquiry on human rights in North Korea said in its report.

China Arrests

Originally from South Australia, John Short now lives in Hong Kong and has been arrested several times in China for “speaking out about brutality against Chinese Christians,” according to Gospel Attract, a Christian website. It didn’t say whether he had interests in North Korea.

Australia is working with Swedish officials in North Korea to confirm if Short is safe, its foreign ministry said in an e-mailed statement. “Our capacity to deliver consular services there is extremely limited,” it said.

In December, North Korea released an 85-year-old U.S. veteran, Merrill E. Newman, after detaining him for more than a month on accusations of running a spy network set up during the 1950-53 Korean War. Tomorrow, North and South Korea will resume reunions of family members separated by that conflict, which ended in a truce and without a peace treaty.

North Korea has in recent years detained several Americans, including journalists and evangelists, charging them with illegal crossings or unspecified hostile acts. High-profile Americans such as former President Bill Clinton have flown to Pyongyang to secure their release. The North earlier this month rescinded its invitation for a U.S. envoy to travel to Pyongyang to discuss freeing Bae.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sam Kim in Seoul at skim609@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at rmathieson3@bloomberg.net

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