(CNN) — North Korea has decided to free a 75-year-old Australian missionary, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported Monday.
John Short was arrested last month.
“The relevant organ decided to expel him from the territory of the DPRK, thanks to the tolerance of the law of the DPRK and in full consideration of his age,” KCNA reported.
The agency said Short “committed a criminal act by secretly spreading his Bible tracts around a Buddhist temple in Pyongyang,” after entering the country as a tourist.
It published a written apology.
“I now realize the seriousness of my insult to the Korean people on February 16th because I made the Korean people angry and for this I truly apologize.
“I realize that my actions are an indelible hostile act against the independent right and law of the DPRK.
“I request the forgiveness of the DPRK for my actions,” Short reportedly wrote.
KCNA also accused him of “spreading his Bible tracts in the Pyongyang Metro on a crowded train, causing a chaos in the sound public order of the DPRK,” in August 2012.
Short, a citizen of Australia, lives in Hong Kong.
He has been arrested multiple times while doing evangelical work in China “for speaking out about brutality against Chinese Christians,” according to a biography on a religious website named Gospel Attract.
In the 1990s, he became “persona non grata” with Chinese authorities for almost two years and was unable to visit mainland China, the biography said.
Last year, North Korea sentenced Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American, to 15 years of hard labor on charges he planned to topple the government through religious activities.
Washington has repeatedly called on Pyongyang to release Bae, expressing concerns about his health. But Kim Jong Un’s regime has so far refused to budge.
Bae, 45, was widely reported to have been conducting missionary work in North Korea. His family says he ran a company specializing in tours of the secretive country.
North Korea has a number of state-controlled churches, but the authoritarian Communist regime doesn’t tolerate independent religious activities.
The regime “considers the spread of Christianity a particularly serious threat, since it challenges ideologically the official personality cult and provides a platform for social and political organization and interaction outside the realm of the state,” a United Nations panel said in a report released last month.
“People caught practicing Christianity are subject to severe punishments in violation of the right to freedom of religion and the prohibition of religious discrimination,” the report by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea said.