03/03/2014, 00.00
KOREA

Pyongyang frees Australian missionary John Short: humanitarian act following confession

The missionary, 75, was arrested on February 16 for handing out religious material. Two other missionaries, Kenneth Bae and Kim Jeong- wook, still in the hands of the regime.

Seoul ( AsiaNews) - North Korean authorities this morning released 75 year old Australian missionary John Short, arrested on February 16 on charges of "illegally distributing religious material". Short, who has lived for decades in Hong Kong with his wife, arrived a little while ago at Beijing airport. He said he was "very, very tired," and added that for now, he "intends only to rest". Pyongyang released him "in consideration of his age" and "in light of the fact that he confessed his crimes and apologized. This is a generous decision".

In regime's official KCNA press statement reads: "John Short committed a criminal act by secretly spreading his Bible tracts around a Buddhist temple in Pyongyang. He admitted that his activities were criminal acts hurting the Korean people's absolute trust in their leader, violating the independent right of North Korea.  He earnestly requested the forgiveness. North Korea decided to expel him from the territory, thanks to the tolerance of the law and in full consideration of his age".

Currently there are still two other Protestant missionaries in the hands of the regime led by Kim Jong-un: American Kenneth Bae, sentenced in May 2013 to 15 years in prison for " hostile acts against the nation" and South Korean Kim Jeong- wook, arrested in October 2013, who disappeared altogether until February 27, when he appeared at a press conference to "admit his crimes" and ask for "forgiveness of the State". Pyongyang has rejected the request for his release made ​​by the Seoul Government, but has not yet announced whether he will be prosecuted for such crimes.

The North Korean constitution guarantees religious freedom on paper, but in fact it does not exist in the country. The only form of religiosity permitted by the government is the cult of personality of the dictator and his ancestors: Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il are revered semi- deities, and the incumbent leader Kim Jong-un their direct descendant. In Pyongyang there are three churches - two Protestant and one Catholic - but they are considered a facade for tourists and non-governmental organizations. There are no resident priests or religious, but only officials of the associations established by the government to control the religions.

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