North Korea

Wife of Hong Kong missionary feared detained in North Korea appeals for government help

Wife calls on government to help after Christian evangelist husband, 75, goes missing on visit to North Korea to distribute religious pamphlets

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 February, 2014, 3:38pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 February, 2014, 12:16pm

The wife of a Christian evangelist from Hong Kong who is missing, feared detained, in North Korea is seeking help from the government to secure his release.

Long-time Hong Kong resident John Short, 75, was interviewed by police at his Pyongyang hotel last weekend and has not been heard from since.

Watch: Hong Kong-based missionary detained in Pyongyang ‘quite willing to suffer', wife says

His wife Karen Short, 57, with whom he runs a Christian publishing firm in Hong Kong, said she believed he was being held for distributing religious material in the authoritarian state.

David Wong, a mainland colleague who was in Pyongyang with Short, was also questioned by police in the capital, but was allowed to return to China.

Both John Short, who has lived in Hong Kong for 50 years, and his wife, who has lived here for more than 30 years, are Australian passport holders.

He’s not political and there’s no [group] behind this … It’s in God’s hands

Short told the South China Morning Post she would be contacting the Hong Kong Security Bureau for help and had already sought assistance from the Australian government. She is also trying to contact the North Korean consulate in Wan Chai.

A spokesman for the immigration department said it was "looking into the case".

Short, speaking at the Tsuen Wan office of their 100-year-old publishing firm Christian Book Room, said: "I'd love to hear him say he's on a plane right now."

Short said her husband was aware that carrying Christian materials with the intent of distributing them to North Koreans was illegal.

He had carried several small stacks of self-written pamphlets entitled "What do you believe?" in his luggage.

He took the same materials, translated into Korean, with him on a previous trip in January last year with no problems.

Short was made aware of her husband's detention on Tuesday morning, when David Wong made it back to Beijing.

"They were questioned separately, so I don't know what they asked my husband," said Short. "He's not political and there's no organisation behind this. We are faith missionaries."

She said her husband bore North Korea no ill-will and had no intent to topple the regime.

John Short arrived in Hong Kong in 1964 and worked at a refugee clinic in Wong Tai Sin before and during the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution.

He is a former member of the Australian military and one of his three sons, who all live in Australia, still serves in the army.

Short said: "He's used to being in difficult, dangerous places."

The political situation has deteriorated since John Short last visited North Korea, with the execution of several high-ranking officials, including the uncle of leader Kim Jong-un.

US citizen Kenneth Bae, also a Christian missionary, is currently serving a 15-year, hard-labour prison sentence in North Korea for trying to overthrow the state.

On Monday, UN investigators released a report saying North Korean security chiefs - and possibly even Kim himself - should face international justice for ordering systematic torture, starvation and killings comparable to Nazi-era atrocities.

"With the UN report and all, it's a tricky time, isn't it?" Short said. "It's in God's hands."

Additional reporting by Kristine Servando, Fanny Fung