North Korea said Saturday it has sentenced a South Korean Baptist missionary to hard labor for life for allegedly spying and trying to set up underground churches, the latest in a string of missionaries to run into trouble in the rigidly controlled North.
North Korean state media said the missionary was tried Friday and admitted to anti-North Korean religious acts and “malignantly hurting the dignity” of the country’s supreme leadership, a reference to the ruling Kim family. The rival Koreas have different English spelling styles for Korean names, so the North called the missionary Kim Jong Uk, but Seoul has previously referred to him as Kim Jung Wook.
North Korea’s official news agency KCNA said in its report on the trial, “The accused admitted to all his crimes: he committed anti-DPRK religious acts, malignantly hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK overseas and tried to infiltrate into Pyongyang … for the purpose of setting up an underground church and gathering information about the internal affairs of the DPRK while luring its inhabitants into South Korea and spying on the DPRK.”
Kim had been based largely in Dandong, in China, since 2007, from where he helped North Korean defectors get to South Korea via Thailand, Laos and other countries. Kim was born in 1964, Joo said, making him 49 or 50.
In August 2012, a group of 12 North Korean women were caught by Chinese authorities while they were at Kim’s shelter and sent back to North Korea.
Christian missionaries have been drawn over the years to totalitarian North Korea, which tolerates only strictly sanctioned religious services. North Korean defectors have said that the distribution of Bibles and secret prayer services can mean banishment to a labor camp or execution.
[AP and Agence France-Presse]