News / Asia

S. Korea Urges North to Release Detained Missionary

Kim Jung-wook, a South Korean Baptist missionary, speaks during a news conference in Pyongyang, North Korea, Feb. 27, 2014.
Kim Jung-wook, a South Korean Baptist missionary, speaks during a news conference in Pyongyang, North Korea, Feb. 27, 2014.
Daniel Schearf
South Korea has urged North Korea to repatriate Kim Jung-wook, one of its citizens detained for the last four months for Christian missionary activities. Pyongyang has accused the man of spying and trying to overthrow the government in the latest in a series of arrested missionaries.

The South Korean Baptist missionary was paraded to the media earlier in the day in Pyongyang and revealed he was arrested in October.  In an apparent stage-managed confession, Kim admitted to trying to topple the North Korean government.   

Kim professed to encouraging North Koreans to destroy statues of former North Korean leaders and build churches in their place.

He said he was trying to turn North Korea into a religious country by destroying its present government and political system. He added that he received money from South Korea's intelligence service and followed their instructions, arranging North Koreans to act as their spies.

Kim went on to say he set up an underground church across the border in Dandong, China, where he collected information from North Korean defectors for South Korea's National Intelligence Service or NIS.

The NIS denies he was a secret agent.

North Korea in November had said it detained a South Korean spy but refused to provide information or release the individual.

South Korea's Ministry of Unification Thursday said North Korea's behavior was inhumane.

Ministry spokesman Kim Eui-do urged Pyongyang to behave responsibly and guarantee the safety of Kim Jung-wook.

He says it is difficult to understand why North Korea considers their citizen, whose activities are purely religious, as a criminal against the country. He says the South Korean government strongly urges North Korea to immediately release their citizen and return him.

Kim made his alleged confession sitting at a table under large portraits of North Korea's former leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

The Associated Press, the only western news agency in Pyongyang, reports the media was not allowed to ask questions.

Kim Young-hwan is an activist and researcher at the Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights (NKNet). He was jailed in China in 2012 for helping defectors along the border and said the missionary, was probably pressured and threatened.

He said North Korea does not want other religions to replace its self-reliance (Juche) ideology or the Kim Jong Un family. If it happens, he said, the system will be in danger so North Korea has a very hostile reaction to religion. Kim said North Korea has a very hostile attitude to missionary activity both in the country and targeting North Korean defectors in the border area.

North Korea is holding American missionary Kenneth Bae who was detained in November 2012. He was sentenced to 15 years hard labor for attempting to topple the government.

Last week North Korea arrested Australian missionary John Short after he left a Christian pamphlet in a Buddhist temple.

It is not yet clear what charges the 75-year-old Short may be facing.

VOA Seoul Bureau producer Youmi Kim contributed to this report

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