A South Korean Christian missionary imprisoned in North Korea said during a recent press conference in front of government officials that he is a "criminal" guilty of "anti-state" crimes such as attempting to turn the country into a Christian nation.
At the press conference on Thursday, Baptist missionary Kim Jung Wook pleaded with North Korean officials to grant him mercy and said that he had conspired with South Korea's intelligence agency to build house churches in North Korea. Kim was arrested by North Korean officials in October, and Thursday marks his first public appearance since his arrest.
"I was thinking of turning North Korea into a religious country, and destroying its present government and political system," Kim said. "I received money from the intelligence services and followed instructions from them, and arranged North Koreans to act as their spies. And I also set up an underground church in China, in Dandong, and got the members to talk and write, for me to collect details about the reality of life in North Korea, and I provided this to the intelligence services."
It remains unclear why North Korea had Kim speak in a media conference on Thursday. South Korea denies any involvement between its intelligence agency and Kim, and called for the Baptist missionary's release on Thursday. "It's hard to understand calling one of our citizens who engages in pure religious activities an anti-state criminal," Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Eui-do said at a news conference, according to The Associated Press.
As The Guardian points out, foreign prisoners in North Korea are often required by the government to make a public "confession" of their alleged transgressions that can expedite their release. During his press conference, Kim also said that he "vilified and insulted the North's leadership with extremely colorful language" and was plotting with South Korea to overthrow current North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Activists who know Kim say the 50-year-old missionary worked in the Chinese border city of Dandong for seven years, providing food and shelter to North Koreans who had left the country to go to China in search for jobs. According to activists' accounts, Kim had left Dandong back in October and traveled into North Korea to find refugees who had been arrested in China and sent back to their homeland.
Kim is one of several Christian missionaries to be arrested by North Korea and charged with allegedly trying to overthrow the government. Kenneth Bae, an American Christian missionary, was arrested in North Korea in November 2012 and charged with trying to overthrow the government through religious activities. The 45-year-old previously worked as a tour operator between China and North Korea.
Just last week, Australian Christian missionary John Short, 75, was arrested in North Korea for reportedly handing out Gospel tracts. His family fears the missionary could get 15 years imprisonment for his actions.