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February 20, 2014

Australian Missionary's Wife Says N. Korea Detention is Not Political

by William Gallo

The wife of an Australian missionary detained in North Korea says she does not know why her husband was arrested, insisting he had no political goals for visiting the isolated, communist country.

Karen Short spoke with VOA on Thursday by telephone from Hong Kong, where she and her husband, John Short, 75, have lived for more than 50 years as Christian missionaries.

She announced Wednesday that her husband was detained, possibly for possessing Korean-language religious material, while on a tour in Pyongyang. Since then, she has been bombarded by phone calls from media around the world.

"I have been asked this question pretty much every time - 'What are your demands?' I do not have any demands to the government, because that is not my place to demand anything from them. But to know that they are being prayed for and I would like to see my husband come home because he is not against Korea, he is for North Korea and for the people," she said.

Short says her husband "is not political, and never has been." But she says they were aware of the dangers in visiting North Korea, which severely restricts organized religion and where Christian proselytizing is especially viewed as foreign meddling.

"He believed it was the right thing to go, and he cares about the situation there and the people there and he wanted to go and make a difference, be there, see the people and let them see him and see that he is not intimidated to travel there having been granted a visa this second time, because that is what he does, we are Christian missionaries," she said.

On a previous visit to North Korea, Short said her husband was able to pass on religious material, such as Gospel tracts, but "with great discretion and care," as he was under constant surveillance by government minders.

But she says this time, he must have done something to draw attention to himself or displease authorities. But she has no idea what that may have been.

"He is a courageous person, he is not intimidated by people or afraid of people, particularly communist regimes because of experience here [Hong Kong] and a lot of travel in China. So he believes he has nothing to hide. He has gone in to shine his light there in what we regard as a dark place," she said.

Australia's government has said it will do all it can to work for Short's release, but since it does not have diplomatic relations with Pyongyang, it is forced to work with other countries who do, such as Sweden.

​​John Short is at least the second Christian missionary to be detained in North Korea. Forty-five year-old Korean-American Kenneth Bae is currently serving a 15-years sentence of hard labor after being found guilty of trying to overthrow the government.

When asked if she fears her husband will share the same fate as Bae, Karen Short said she will deal with that reality when and if she is forced to do so. For now, she insists she is "a bit weary but in good spirits," saying she survives by praying and knowing that many people around the world are also praying for her.