In a surprise move Monday, North Korean officials freed a Christian missionary from Australia who was arrested for handing out Bibles in Pyongyang.
John Short, 75, allegedly apologized for his behavior and begged for his freedom.
“I now realize the seriousness of my insult to the Korean people on Feb. 16 because I made the Korean people angry, and for this I truly apologize,” Short said, according to a report on the state news agency. “I am willing to bow down on my knees to request this tolerance of (North Korea) and the Korean people.”
A video of Short’s “confession”shows him reading what appears to be his written apology and bowing at a room, presumably full of spectators. Officials said they decided to free Short in part because of his age.
At least two other foreign missionaries, one an American, remain in captivity in North Korea. Officials have paraded both in front of reporters for staged confessions, but have so far resisted pleas for their release. One man is a South Korean Baptist missionary who apologized for allegedly trying to reach Pyongyang with Bibles, Christian instructional materials, and movies in October. The other is Korean-American Kenneth Bae, who was sentenced to 15 years hard labor after being arrested in November 2012. Two attempts to send a U.S. envoy to negotiate his release have failed.
Short arrived in Beijing late Monday, but declined to speak to reporters, saying he was tired. He left the airport in a vehicle from the Australian Embassy.
“Clearly this is welcome news for Mr. Short, his family, and his supporters,”Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement. “Australian consular officials stand ready to provide assistance to Mr. Short to ensure he can return to his home in Hong Kong as soon as possible.”
Short and his wife, Karen, have lived in Hong Kong for 50 years. They operate a Christian publishing company and make frequent trips into hostile countries to evangelize. Short has been arrested several times in mainland China. This was his second trip to North Korea.
After his most recent arrest, his wife said he knew the risk he was taking.
“It’s not an open country, and it doesn’t welcome Christians—yes, we realize that,”she said. “But that doesn’t mean we stand by and don’t do anything because we care for the situation, and we pray about it, but sometimes you have to do more than talk.”
Open Doors USA named North Korea this year’s most hostile country to Christians. Last month, a United Nations commission released a report detailing atrocities perpetrated by the government against its people. North Korea is home to an estimated 100,000 Christians. About one-third of them are detained in concentration camps because of their faith.