Skip to main content

Australian missionary reportedly detained in North Korea

By Saeed Ahmed, CNN
February 19, 2014 -- Updated 1044 GMT (1844 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • John Short, 75, had with him some Gospel tracts, his wife says
  • The Australian government says it is aware of reports of his detention
  • North Korea is already holding a Korean-American reported to have done missionary work
  • The secretive regime doesn't tolerate independent religious activities

(CNN) -- A 75-year-old Australian missionary who traveled to North Korea as part of a tour group has been detained there, his wife said.

John Short had with him some Gospel tracts in Korean "which seem to be at the core of the detention," his wife said in a statement Wednesday.

"It is alleged he is being asked questions such as, 'Who sent you?', 'To what organization do you belong?', 'Who translated this material into Korean?'" his wife, Karen Short, said.

North Korea hasn't so far commented on the reported detention.

Short, who lives in Hong Kong, went to Pyongyang on Saturday.

Family message to US hostage in N. Korea
American's plea from North Korean prison
Jackson wants a meeting with Kim Jong Un

The next night, police questioned him at his hotel and took him into custody, according to the statement.

His family found out about the detention only after another member of the group returned to China on Tuesday.

"He has been the only source of information," the wife's statement said.

Short has been arrested multiple times while doing evangelical work in China "for speaking out about brutality against Chinese Christians," according to a biography on a religious website named Gospel Attract.

In the 1990s, he became "persona non grata" with Chinese authorities for almost two years and was unable to visit mainland China, the biography said.

The Australian consulate in Hong Kong said the Australian government is aware of the report.

Since Australia does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea, the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang is handling representations on its behalf.

Last year, North Korea sentenced Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American, to 15 years of hard labor on charges he planned to topple the government through religious activities.

Washington has repeatedly called on Pyongyang to release Bae, expressing concerns about his health. But Kim Jong Un's regime has so far refused to budge.

Bae, 45, was widely reported to have been carrying out missionary work in North Korea. His family says he ran a company specializing in tours of the secretive country.

North Korea has a number of state-controlled churches, but the authoritarian Communist regime doesn't tolerate independent religious activities.

The regime "considers the spread of Christianity a particularly serious threat, since it challenges ideologically the official personality cult and provides a platform for social and political organization and interaction outside the realm of the state," a United Nations panel said in a report released this week.

"People caught practicing Christianity are subject to severe punishments in violation of the right to freedom of religion and the prohibition of religious discrimination," the report by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea said.

READ: 'Abundant evidence' of crimes against humanity in North Korea, panel says

READ: North Korea: 'We were forced to eat grass and soil'

READ: American Kenneth Bae now in North Korea labor camp

CNN's Tim Schwarz, Jethro Mullen and Chieu Luu contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 0023 GMT (0823 HKT)
Wilson Raj Perumal tells CNN how he rigged World Cup games: "I was giving orders to the coach."
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0823 GMT (1623 HKT)
He should be toddling around a playground. Instead, his tiny hands grip an AK-47.
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1652 GMT (0052 HKT)
CNN's Will Ripley travels to North Korea, visiting an international wrestling festival and a slide-filled water park.
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 0920 GMT (1720 HKT)
Our whole solar system appears to be inside a searing gas bubble, scientists say.
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1230 GMT (2030 HKT)
In a raid on a luxury apartment complex, agents caught up with a French-Algerian man they accuse of bringing back terror to Europe.
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 0002 GMT (0802 HKT)
One journalist murdered, another still being held by ISIS -- a ransom negotiator talks to CNN about trying to get a hostage home alive.
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1228 GMT (2028 HKT)
Was a police officer justified in shooting and killing Michael Brown?
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1654 GMT (0054 HKT)
Don't like the country you live in? Meet the people who created their own "micronations."
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1835 GMT (0235 HKT)
South Africa Music Legends stamps
Artist Hendrik Gericke puts a spotlight on iconic performers from South Africa in these incredible monochrome illustrations.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 0946 GMT (1746 HKT)
We asked you what you would like to know about Ebola. Experts answer some of your most common questions and concerns.
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT