SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea said Monday it will deport an Australian missionary detained for spreading Christianity in the country, saying he apologized for his anti-state religious acts and requested forgiveness.
Authorities in North Korea have been investigating John Short since his arrest for secretly spreading Bible tracts near a Buddhist temple in Pyongyang on Feb. 16, the birthday of late leader Kim Jong Il, the North's official Korean Central News Agency said.
The report said that Short, 75, admitted he committed a crime that hurt the Korean people's trust in their leaders and apologized for his behavior.
"I now realize the seriousness of my insult to the Korean people on February 16th because I made the Korean people angry and for this I truly apologize," Short was quoted as saying in a written apology, according to separate KCNA report. "I am willing to bow down on my knees to request this tolerance of (North Korea) and the Korean people."
KCNA says North Korea has decided to expel him thanks for the tolerance of the country's law and in consideration of his age.
North Korea's constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but in practice only sanctioned services are tolerated by the government. Defectors from the country have said that the distribution of Bibles and secret prayer services can mean banishment to a labor camp or execution.
North Korea typically frees foreign detainees after they've admitted their crimes but many say after their releases that their confessions were given involuntarily and under duress.
Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement that it is aware of reports on North Korea's announcement on Short and is seeking to confirm them. Australia does not have an embassy in Pyongyang and is represented there by the Swedish embassy
Short, from Barmera, South Australia state, has been arrested multiple times while evangelizing in mainland China, according to a biography on a Christian website, Gospel Attract.
He was banned from entering China for nearly two years after his second arrest in 1996. Authorities later let him back in and he was arrested several more times for "speaking out about the brutality against Chinese Christians," said the site.
Short's wife, Karen, said he was visiting North Korea for the second time. His first trip was a year ago "so he knew what he was going into," she said.