A 75-year-old Australian missionary, John Short, who was arrested in North Korea last month allegedly due to his Christian work, reached Beijing Monday after he was released by authorities. American Christian Kenneth Bae remains in a labor camp despite his illness.
Short was received at a Beijing airport by Australian embassy officials Monday, Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports.
"The Government has confirmed through the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang that Mr. Short has been released and was being deported from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea," Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement. "Clearly this is welcome news for Mr. Short, his family and his supporters. Australian consular officials stand ready to provide assistance to Mr. Short to ensure he can return to his home in Hong Kong as soon as possible."
The Hong Kong-based Australian missionary had apologized and admitted to violating North Korean laws, according to North Korean state news agency, KCNA, which also said he was released partly in consideration of his age.
Carrying Korean-language Christian pamphlets, Short traveled to North Korea along with a Chinese Christian, Wang Chong. The missionary visited a Buddhist temple and left the pamphlets there. His North Korean tour guide reported it to authorities.
KCNA said he confessed to the "crime."
"I wanted more Korean people to be Christians therefore I secretly spread Bible tracts written by me," Short reportedly wrote in his confession. "I heard from the TV and newspaper reports that the DPRK is the closest closed socialist country in the world. I heard from the reports the religious freedom is not in North Korea. And that foreigners are not welcome to visit or attend for the Church. In the process of hearing the reports I questioned if it was true."
Short added that he went as a tourist to North Korea for a second time "to spread my Bible tracts in a larger quantity."
"On February 16, I visited the Popun temple and committed a criminal act by secretly spreading my Bible tracts around the temple. I deeply apologize for what I have done by spreading my Bible tracts on February 16th, the birthday of His Excellency Kim Jong Il … I now realize the seriousness of my insult to the Korean people … because I made the Korean people angry and for this I truly apologize."
In December, North Korea released 85-year-old U.S. veteran Merrill Newman after holding him for more than a week for allegedly making plots against Pyongyang. Newman expressed gratitude toward the Swedish and American embassies in Pyongyang for helping secure his release.
"I appreciate the tolerance the DPRK government has given to me to be on my way. I feel good. I feel good. I want to go home to see my wife," he was quoted as saying by USA Today.
Bae, an imprisoned American Christian sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government, remains in a labor camp. He was moved from a hospital on Jan. 20 amid "grave concerns" about his health.
Bae's sister, Terri Chung, told Reuters at the time that her brother suffered from a variety of health issues, including diabetes, an enlarged heart, kidney stones and severe back pain. "We are very concerned about his health."
Bae, who was arrested in the city of Rajin on Nov. 3, 2012, continues to be the longest-serving American detainee in North Korea since the end of the war in 1953.
North Korea has been a brutal dictatorship, ruled by one party, the Korea Worker's Party, and led by one family, the Kims, since its formation in 1948. There are at least 100,000 Christians in that nation's harsh prison camps, where prisoners face torture, forced labor and possible execution, Christian groups say.