Australia said it remained in the dark on Thursday on the whereabouts or wellbeing of a Christian missionary detained in North Korea after leaving a pamphlet in a Buddhist temple.
Hong Kong-based Australian citizen John Short, 75, was taken from his Pyongyang hotel by police earlier this month for allegedly distributing Korean-language Christian pamphlets and attempting to proselytise.
Canberra has been working on the case via the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang, which represents its interests in the absence of diplomatic relations between Australia and North Korea.
Justin Brown, head of the foreign office’s consular section, said their inquiries into his health or whereabouts had so far yielded little.
“We have yet to hear from Mr Short,” Brown told a parliamentary hearing. “We do not know anything about the conditions in which he’s being held.”
According to Short’s travelling companion, Chinese Christian Wang Chong, the Australian left a pamphlet about the gospel inside a Buddhist temple and their North Korean tour guide reported him to the authorities.
An employee of the Chinese company that booked the tour, BTG, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that Short allegedly admitted he was in North Korea for more than just sightseeing.
Pyongyang views foreign missionaries as seditious elements intent on fomenting unrest, and Short could face a lengthy jail term.
They are also holding US citizen Kenneth Bae, described by a North Korean court as a militant Christian evangelist.
He was arrested in November 2012 and sentenced to 15 years’ hard labour on charges of seeking to topple the government.
Short has lived in Asia for five decades and runs a publishing house in Hong Kong that distributes calendars, Bibles and tracts in Chinese and other languages, according to his wife Karen.
Karen Short said on Thursday she was in regular touch with Australian authorities about her husband but had no updates to share.
“I have no new information to pass on at this time. The Australian Consular officials contact me regularly. I am continuing to pray knowing God is in control,” Karen said in a written reply to an inquiry.