Baptist Missionary Sentenced to Life in Hard Labor by North Korea

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said on Saturday that it had sentenced a South Korean Baptist missionary to a labor camp for life for allegedly trying to build underground churches in the country, where the government considers such religious activities an attempt to sabotage its rule.

The missionary, Kim Jong-uk, was also convicted of spying and other various “anti-state” crimes during a trial in Pyongyang on Friday, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said on Saturday. A large crowd attended Mr. Kim’s trial, the report said.

The severe punishment of Mr. Kim, who has been held in the North since October, came a day after the country struck a conciliatory agreement with Japan. On Thursday, North Korea agreed to reopen an investigation into the fate of Japanese citizens it abducted in the 1970s and 1980s.

In return, Japan promised to lift some sanctions and consider humanitarian aid shipments once such the inquiry gets underway.

The Pyongyang-Tokyo breakthrough raised fears in Seoul that North Korea was trying to undermine Washington’s efforts to forge a united strategy with South Korea and Japan in confronting the North. The deal came as both Washington and Seoul have been refusing to engage the North in serious dialogue until the country took steps toward dismantling its nuclear weapons.

North Korea has recently lashed out at the hardline government in South Korea, calling its president, Park Geun-hye, “a dirty prostitute” beholden to the “pimp” Obama, the United States president.

Last Thursday, navy ships of North and South Korea exchanged artillery shells, though they did not hit each other.

The sentence against Mr. Kim was harsher than any that North Korea has given to a string of outside missionaries and activists who have been detained in the country in recent years.

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About the author

Austin Gardner is pastor of Vision Baptist Church in Alpharetta, GA. Previously he was church planting missionary in Peru for 20 years.

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