(RICK WALLACE, THE AUSTRALIAN, 21 FEBRUARY 2014) An Australian missionary detained in North Korea faces the prospect of a stint in prison as the totalitarian state is likely to use his arrest as leverage in its quest to reopen an embassy in Canberra.
Academic Leonid Petrov, who has run tours to North Korea, says John Short will have to make a public confession to avoid a long spell in prison, but given his Christian stance against the regime, he may refuse, turning the issue into a diplomatic stand-off.
Dr Petrov, a Korea specialist at the Australian National University, said the fact the recent UN inquiry into North Korea’s human rights was led by an Australian (former High Court judge Michael Kirby) might also count against Mr Short in Pyongyang.
The 75-year-old missionary, who reportedly once served in the Australian military, was detained in his hotel lobby in Pyongyang at the end of a tour to North Korea organised by a Chinese travel agency.
It’s believed he was carrying a Bible and other Christian materials translated into Korean, all of which are banned in North Korea, where there is no religious freedom, even though some token churches are allowed to operate primarily for show.
Dr Petrov said the Australian government, which is relying on Sweden to handle consular matters in this case, would be hampered by the fact it doesn’t have an embassy or consulate in Pyongyang.
“Hundreds of Australians go to North Korea each year both for business and pleasure — sooner or later this was bound to happen,” he said. “It would much better in this case if we had an ambassador in Pyongyang.”
He said North Korea was likely to use Mr Short’s arrest to push for concessions from Australia, including the right to reopen its Canberra embassy, plans for which were scotched in the wake of a nuclear test last year.
North Korean authorities would try to force Mr Short into a videotaped “confession” — as they did with an elderly US ex-serviceman temporarily detained last year, Dr Petrov said.
“But I doubt that a missionary such as John Short is likely to succumb to pressure by a regime which he abhors,” he said.
So far, Pyongyang has said nothing about Mr Short’s detention, which was revealed after his wife, Karen, released a statement in Hong Kong, where they have lived for 50 years.