(CRAIG COOK EXCLUSIVE THE ADVERTISER FEBRUARY 20, 2014) A South Australian man detained in North Korea for allegedly distributing religious material could be very difficult to protect, former Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says.
John Short, 75, a former member of the Unley and Elizabeth Global Hall Brethren, was arrested by the public security bureau of North Korea on Sunday and faces 15 years in jail under the harsh regime of Kim Jong-un.
He has since been questioned in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital and its largest city, about religious pamphlets printed in the Korean language and believed to be in his possession.
“It’s a fascist state and they would take a very dim view of anyone distributing information that doesn’t concur with the state ideology,” Mr Downer said. “A worse place to be caught doing something like that is unimaginable.
Mr Short, who was born in Barmera in the Riverland, lives in Hong Kong with his wife and three children, but is a regular visitor to Adelaide…
…A DFAT spokeswoman said the Government was aware of Mr Short’s arrest. “Australian has no diplomatic representation in North Korea and our capacity to deliver consular services there is extremely limited,’’ she said.
“Australian interests in North Korea are currently represented by the Swedish Embassy. We are in close contact with Swedish officials in Pyongyang to seek their assistance in confirming the well-being of Mr Short and to obtain more information.”
Mr Downer said he was believed the Australian government could work with Beijing to try to help. “Or the Swedes or the Brits could get involved but he could have a very difficult time of it,” he said. “It would depend on how he was looking to distribute material but it’s a very dangerous place to be doing something like that — we can only hope for the best.”
North Korea has several sanctioned churches in Pyongyang, but frowns on the distribution of Bibles and other religious materials by foreigners. Interaction between North Koreans and foreigners is strictly regulated.
Dr Leonid Petrov, who teaches North Korean political history at the Australian National University in Canberra, said Mr Short’s situation “could be complicated” by the release of a UN report on Monday detailing regime crimes against humanity.
Releasing the report, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, urged world powers to refer North Korea to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“If he was found to be networking directly with North Koreans to spread religious material it could be very bad for him and them,” Dr Petrov said. “For locals, the whole family would be sent to the Gulag (forced labour camps) with little chance of ever being released unless they repent (their religious views). “For the foreigner, they could face a similar sentence to Kenneth Bae of 15 years with 16-hours-a-day hard labour.”
Mr Bae, a South Korean-born US citizen , was sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment in April , 2013 for attempting to topple the Korean regime. “They do treat white foreigners with some dignity compared to Korean born ‘foreigners’,” Dr Petrov added. “And foreigners are normally deported if they are distributing religious material. “But I would expect them to videotape a confession and then hold a press conference before they let him go.”
Mr Petrov said religions were sanctioned in the country, but people were too scared to participate and Koreans had no idea about Christianity. Christians suffered most in North Korea on the sole basis of their faith…