South Korea has urged North Korea to release the Baptist missionary Kim Jung-wook, who was sentenced last month to hard labor for life on charges of spying and trying to set up underground churches.
South Korea has denied that Jung-wook is its spy and said that his punishment is too harsh, according to Mission News Network, which also reported that the North has ignored the South's pleas to free the missionary.
Kim allegedly admitted to committing anti-North Korean religious acts and "malignantly hurting the dignity" of the country's supreme leadership, or the ruling Kim family (no relations).
The missionary was arrested last October after he entered North Korea from China. A North Korean television featured him in February alleging he received assistance from South Korea's intelligence agency and that he had apologized for committing "anti-state" crimes.
Jung-wook's attorneys urged the court for leniency because of his "confession," reducing his sentence from execution to life in the labor camp.
In Dandong, China, where Jung-wook was based for some years since 2007, the missionary helped North Korean defectors flee to South Korea through other countries, including Thailand and Laos, according to a friend.
However, Chinese authorities caught 12 North Korean women in August 2012 from his shelter and sent them back to North Korea. Jung-wook crossed into North Korea to find out about the women and to learn about a food shortage there, but got caught by authorities.
In March, the United Nations Human Rights Council urged the international community to support an international criminal investigation of North Korea for crimes against humanity and to consider targeted sanctions against those responsible.
The resolution called on the U.N. Security Council to take action "in order that those responsible for human rights violations, including those that may amount to crimes against humanity, are held to account."
Earlier this year, a 75-year-old Australian missionary, John Short, was released after being arrested for his alleged Christian work after he "apologized."
While the North also released 85-year-old U.S. veteran Merrill Newman last December after holding him for more than a week for allegedly making plots against Pyongyang, Kenneth Bae, an imprisoned American Christian sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government, remains in a labor camp in North Korea.
Bae's sister, Terri Chung, earlier said 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.
The MNN has requested prayers for the Christians to be granted peace, "but above all … that they will stay strong in their convictions and be a light for Christ in the dark world around them."