By Kevin M. Mathewson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
PYONYANG, North Korea – John Short, an Australian missionary who has been working in Asia for 50 years, has been detained in Pyonyang after apparently disseminating Christian pamphlets at a tourist site. The 75-year-old carried Korean-language pamphlets advocating Christianity into the East Asian nation, which were later discovered by security personnel.
Australia has no representation in North Korea, leaving diplomats scrambling to prevent a potentially lengthy detention in the secretive regime. A spokesman from the Seoul embassy said he was seeking more information about his case.
“We are in close contact with Swedish officials in Pyongyang to seek their assistance in confirming the well being of Mr. Short,” the spokesman said.
With no representation in the authoritative country, the Australian government is essentially powerless to help Short directly. Instead, it is left to rely on Swedish officials in the North Korean capital to check on Short’s well being.
“John is still in North Korea in detention and being questioned as to why he was carrying Korean-language Christian materials,” Karen Short said via telephone in Hong Kong, where she co-owns a Christian publishing firm with her husband.
“He wanted to go as a Christian but not do anything untoward or unwise, because it’s a very closed country, the world knows that. He’s not cavalier in any way, but he is a man of faith.”
She said it was her husband’s second trip to North Korea and that he knew it was not a tourist destination, but said he “cares about the people and wants to help.”
It is unclear what charges, if any, Short may face. However, last year North Korea sentenced American missionary Kenneth Bae to 15 years hard labor after convicting him of trying to overthrow the state. Efforts from Washington to secure his release have proven unsuccessful.
Karen Short says that her husband is fit and healthy and has not yet suffered any physical harm.
Short is no stranger to testing circumstances. A former soldier in the Australian military, he arrived in Hong Kong in 1964 and worked at a refugee clinic during the turmoil of China’s Cultural Revolution. Even so, there is no disputing the tremendous peril he currently faces, including a possible 15-year prison sentence similar to Bae’s. “I pray for my husband to come back soon,” says Karen Short, “I miss him dearly.”
For more information, please see:
TIME – Concern, Little Sympathy, for Australian Missionary Detained in North Korea – 20 February 2014
The Australian – Visiting missionary arrested in North Korea – 20 February 2014
BBC News – North Korea detains Australian missionary – 19 February 2014
The Sydney Morning Herald – South Australian man detained in North Korea on suspicion of doing missionary work – 19 February 2014
abc NEWS – Family: Australian Missionary Held in North Korea – 19 February 2014