Missionary says North Korea interrogated him daily

Canberra, Australia — An Australian missionary detained in North Korea for trying to spread Christianity said Wednesday he was interrogated for four hours a day and kept under 24-hour guard during his grueling 13-day investigation.

North Korea deported John Short, 75, on Monday, saying he had apologized for anti-state religious acts and requested forgiveness.

Short said in a statement to Australian Associated Press on Wednesday that recounting Biblical scriptures helped him endure the "long and grueling investigation."

"There were two-hour sessions each morning, which were repeated again in the afternoons," he said.

Short, an enthusiastic walker, said his confinement in a room in Pyongyang under constant guard was stressful.

"This I found to be most painful physically as an active senior person," he said. "I missed my freedom to walk very much."

Short said he was detained on Feb. 18 as he prepared to leave his Pyongyang hotel for the airport. He said he "openly and honestly" admitted his crime as worded in the indictment: that he distributed Bible tracts with the purpose of making North Koreans become Christians.

"I strongly protested that I was not a spy, nor working with any South Korean organizations nor was I hostile to the DPRK," he wrote, referring to North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

He said he was told that he faced 15 years in prison for distributing religious pamphlets at a Buddhist temple and on a crowded train.

"I confessed that I had knowingly broken the law in what I believed is my God-directed duty and as I do in every place and country I visit," Short said.

Short, who has lived in Hong Kong since 1964, did not immediately respond to a request from The Associated Press for comment Wednesday.

Authorities in North Korea arrested Short for spreading Bible tracts near a Buddhist temple in Pyongyang on Feb. 16, the birthday of late leader Kim Jong Il, the North's official Korean Central News Agency said.

It said Short admitted he had committed a crime that hurt the Korean people's trust in their leaders and that he apologized for his behavior.

KCNA said North Korea decided to expel him in part because of his age.

North Korea's constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but in practice only sanctioned services are tolerated by the government. Defectors from the country have said that distributing Bibles and holding secret prayer services can mean banishment to a labor camp or execution.

North Korea typically frees foreign detainees after they admit their crimes, but many say after their release that their confessions were given under duress. Last week, North Korea presented to the media a detained South Korean missionary who apologized for allegedly trying to reach Pyongyang with Bibles and other Christian materials in October.

Short, from Barmera, South Australia state, has been arrested multiple times while evangelizing in mainland China, according to a biography on a Christian website, Gospel Attract.

According to his written apology issued by KCNA, Short said he also visited North Korea in August 2012 to distribute Bible tracts.