S. Korean Pastor Indicted After Trip to N. Korea

A South Korean pastor was indicted Thursday on the charge of violating South Korea's National Security Law after returning from an unauthorized trip to North Korea.

The Rev. Han Sang-ryol allegedly met with top officials and secret agents during his 70-day stay in the communist north and praised Kim Jong-il's regime while denouncing South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, reported the Seoul-based Yonhap news agency. He was also charged of leading anti-U.S. protests in 2006 under the guidance of North Korean spies.

Han was arrested Aug. 20 after returning to the South.

South Korea forbids its citizens from making unauthorized trips to the north and supporting Pyongyang's repressive regime. Han, a pro-unification activist, could face up to seven years in prison if convicted of violating the security law.

News of Han's indictment comes just weeks after former U.S. President Jimmy Carter helped free a U.S. Christian was was detained in North Korea. Aijalon Mahli Gomes was freed on Aug. 27 after spending seven months in captivity for illegally entering the reclusive country. Gomes was working as an English teacher in South Korea before entering the North.

According to the U.S. State Department's 2009 Report on International Religious Freedom, there are about 150,000 to 200,000 political and religious prisoners in North Korea. Among the prisoners, around 40,000 to 60,000 are Christians, estimates persecution watchdog group Open Doors USA.

North Korea bans Christianity and has publicly executed citizens found to possess a Bible. Many North Koreans who were able to escape have testified about the regime's harsh persecution of Christians.

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