HONG KONG: A 75-year-old Australian missionary has been detained in North Korea for allegedly distributing Korean-language Christian pamphlets, his wife said on Wednesday.
Hong Kong-based John Short was taken from his Pyongyang hotel on Monday by North Korea’s public security bureau following an earlier visit from the officers on Sunday night.
“He arrived Saturday morning from Beijing” as part of an organized tour group, Karen Short said in Hong Kong.
“On Monday they [the officers]came early, around 7 a.m.,” she said, adding that the North Koreans told her husband and a Chinese companion they would be taken to the airport and deported.
“John never arrived [at the airport].”
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs said it was working on the case via the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang, which represents Australian interests in the absence of diplomatic relations between Canberra and North Korea.
“We are in close contact with Swedish officials in Pyongyang to seek their assistance in confirming the well-being of Mr. Short and to obtain more information,” a spokesman said.
Short said she was unsure how much leverage Australia’s government would have to influence her husband’s fate.
“I don’t know they can do very much,” she said
Although religious freedom is enshrined in the North Korean constitution, it does not exist in practice and religious activity is severely restricted to officially recognized groups linked to the government.
Pyongyang views foreign missionaries as seditious elements intent on fomenting unrest and those who are caught engaging in any activities in the North are subject to immediate arrest.