SYDNEY: An Australian missionary deported from North Korea has told of the gruelling interrogations he faced during his 13-day ordeal in the Stalinist state and the stress of being under constant watch.
John Short, 75, flew out of Pyongyang on Monday to Beijing after he signed a detailed “confession” and apology after his arrest for distributing religious material in the North Korean capital.
“There were two-hour sessions each morning, which were repeated again in the afternoons,” Short said of the questioning which he said was part of a “long and gruelling investigation” into him by authorities.
Short, originally from Australia but who has lived in Hong Kong for decades, said the confinement he faced after his February 18 detention was particularly difficult, given his habit of long daily walks.
“This I found to be most painful physically as an active senior person,” he said in a statement supplied to Australian Associated Press.
Short’s release came as North Korea test-fired half a dozen short-range missiles into the sea over the past week, in a sign of tensions on the Korean peninsula fuelled by ongoing South Korea-US joint military drills.
The missionary, who was picked up after leaving “Bible tracts” in a Buddhist temple in Pyongyang during a tour, said he insisted to his interrogators that he was not a spy and did not wish hostilities on North Korea.
The non-denominational Christian Evangelist said he was told that distributing religious pamphlets was a violation of local laws and that he faced up to 15 years in prison.
In his confession to North Korean authorities, Short said he realised that “my actions are an indelible hostile act against the independent right and laws of the (North)” and requested forgiveness.
In his statement released late Wednesday, he said: “I confessed that I had knowingly broken the law in what I believed is my God-directed duty and as I do in every place and country I visit.”
Although freedom of worship is enshrined in North Korea’s constitution, it does not exist in practice and religious activity is severely restricted to officially recognised groups linked to the government.
A UN-mandated commission recently published a damning report detailing horrific human rights abuses in North Korea and concluding that they could comprise crimes against humanity.