UPDATED 2pm: Australian man John Short is expected to be expelled from North Korea after apologising and admitting to violating the reclusive country’s laws for allegedly distributing religious materials.
The 75-year-old missionary, a former South Australian, was arrested in Pyongyang in mid-February after he allegedly distributed religious pamphlets at a Buddhist temple and in a crowded underground train.
The North’s official news agency KCNA reported that Short had apologised and admitted to violating North Korean laws, adding the decision to expel him was was partly in consideration of his age.
“Short acknowledged that his actions were … unforgivable crimes in violation of our laws, offered an apology and begged for forgiveness,” KCNA said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in Canberra said it was yet to confirm the development.
“The department is aware of media reports that John Short will be expelled from the DPRK. We are seeking to confirm these reports,” a DFAT spokesperson said.
His wife Karen Short welcomed the news of her husband’s imminent release.
“Possibility is becoming reality. (I’m) amazingly thankful,” she said.
In a handwritten apology, distributed by KCNA and attributed to Short, the missionary said he realised his actions were an “indelible hostile act against the independent right and law of the DPRK”.
Short admitted in the letter to having travelled to North Korea to convert people to Christianity and to secretly spreading passages from the Bible which he had printed on pamphlets.
“I committed the criminal act against the law of the DPRK by spreading my Bible tracts in Pyongyang underground station on the train,” the letter says.
“I am willing to bow down on my knees to request this tolerance of the DPRK and the Korean people.”
North Korea typically frees foreign detainees after they’ve admitted their crimes but many say after their release that their confessions were given involuntarily and under duress.
Short also admitted to secretly spreading passages from the Bible when he visited a temple on February 16, the birthday of Kim Jong Il and regarded by the DPRK as its greatest national holiday.
Missionary work is illegal in North Korea and Short had been facing the possibly of years in jail.
North Korea is also holding US citizen Kenneth Bae, described by a North Korean court as a militant Christian evangelist.
He was sentenced to 15 years hard labour on charges of seeking to topple the government.
Short has lived in Asia for five decades and runs a publishing house in Hong Kong that distributes calendars, Bibles and tracts in Chinese and other languages.
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