Arrested Australian John Short was in North Korea for more than tourism: travel officials

Arrested Australian John Short was in North Korea for more than tourism: travel officials

Arrested Australian John Short was in North Korea for more than tourism: travel officials

Updated 20 February 2014, 14:18 AEST

An Australian missionary being held in North Korea had admitted he was in the country for more than just tourism, according to North Korean tourism officials who have been in touch with his Chinese travel company.

An Australian missionary being held in North Korea had admitted he was in the country for more than just tourism, according to North Korean tourism officials who have been in touch with his Chinese travel company.

John Short, 75, has been arrested in North Korea for distributing Christian pamphlets and could face a long period of incarceration.

Details are emerging of how Mr Short came to be arrested following apparent attempts to proselytise, which is illegal inside the isolated country.

Mr Short, a Hong-Kong based Australian missionary, travelled to North Korea on a two-man tour with Chinese Christian Wang Chong.

The Chinese travel agency which booked the two-person trip says it has been told that Mr Short, as well as carrying a large amount of Korean language Christian pamphlets in his luggage, has admitted to local officials that his journey was not only for the purpose of tourism.

Proselytising is viewed harshly inside North Korea and Mr Short, who is being held in custody in Pyongyang, is undoubtedly in trouble.

Mr Wang, who has now returned to Beijing, says their problems stemmed from a visit to a Buddhist temple, where Mr Short left pamphlet materials promoting Christianity.

"They took us to a mountain to visit a temple and a Buddhist statue was broken or smashed by someone. The door of this temple was damaged too," Mr Wang said.

"They were not happy for us to see this damage. We took some photos. They asked us to delete them and we deleted them.

"Mr Short believes in God. I believe in God too.

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"He didn't feel comfortable in his heart and he left a pamphlet there relating to the gospel."

The local North Korean tour guide reported this to his superiors, who told security officials.

They found a fair quantity of Korean language Christian pamphlet material in Mr Short's bags back at the hotel.

Chinese tour company communicating with North Korean counterparts

The fact that BTG, the Chinese tour company that booked the trip for the two men, is communicating with its North Korean counterparts does not bode well for Mr Short.

Australian arrested in North Korea over Christian pamphlets Video: Australian arrested in North Korea over Christian pamphlets (ABC News)

An employee, Han Weiping, has been speaking to the North Koreans.

"When we called the DPRK travel agency they said he had admitted that he didn't go to North Korea only for tourism," Ms Weiping said.

With the North Koreans talking about such an admission, it is highly probable they are building a case against Mr Short.

Ms Weiping said that the trip was supposed to be for four days.

"The pamphlet event happened on the second day," Ms Weiping said.

"And on the third day it was planned for them to visit some sites, but the Australian man said he didn't want to go out and instead wanted to stay in the hotel.

"So the North Koreans could've become even more suspicious that he wasn't there as a tourist."

Mr Short's wife Karen Short says he went to North Korea because he wanted to help the local population.

She says it was her husband's second trip to the secretive country and he was aware of the risks.

Ms Short says she has been told her husband could be sentenced to hard labour for possession of illegal materials.

"He didn't go with the purpose to offend them," Ms Short said.

"But one-on-one contact is all you can do. You can't stand in the middle of the street and proclaim anything."

American-Korean Kenneth Bae was found guilty of this type of missionary work in North Korea and was sentenced to 15 years hard labour.