South Korean Baptist missionary Kim Jong Uk (57) was arrested in North Korea in October 2013 after entering the country with religious materials. In May 2014, he was sentenced to life imprisonment in labour camp.
Before his arrest, Kim Jong Uk (also known as Kim Jung-Wook) worked for seven years in the Chinese port city of Dandong, near the border with North Korea, providing shelter, food and other aid to North Korean refugees and teaching them from the Bible. He reportedly helped some North Korean defectors get to South Korea.
North Korean agents infiltrated his network and convinced him to go into North Korea to find out what had happened to some refugees with whom he had lost contact – according to a Baptist friend in Seoul, Joo Dong-sik, in August 2012 the Chinese authorities had caught a group of twelve North Korean women at Kim Jong Uk’s shelter and repatriated them.
Missionary Kim went in on 7 October 2013 with Bibles and other religious materials, and on 8 October he was arrested and interrogated. He was charged with attempting to overthrow the regime and spying for South Korea.
In February 2014, he appeared before North Korean media to read a statement apologising for “anti-state crimes”. He said he had spied for the South Korean government, acting under directions from South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS – which, he said, paid him several thousand dollars) and that he had set up an underground church in Dandong to collect information from members on life in North Korea for the NIS. South Korea’s National Intelligence Service has repeatedly stated that Kim Jong Uk was not its agent.
Missionary Kim said he had given money to North Koreans to set up five hundred underground churches and to attempt to overthrow the North Korean regime, and stated, “I was thinking of turning North Korea into a religious country, and destroying its present government and political system.”
The government’s broadcast of the news conference, shown repeatedly on North Korea’s one TV channel, featured a North Korean woman (with her face blocked), who purportedly lured Missionary Kim into North Korea. She had been in his discipleship programme and had allegedly gone back and forth between North Korea and China gathering information and taking pictures for him. She told Missionary Kim that if he had money he could build churches in North Korea and said her brother was a high level government official and could help them to pass all guard posts on the way to Pyongyang within a day. However, they had not got far into North Korea when the police caught Missionary Kim. The woman admitted that she had deceived Missionary Kim and that she wanted money to start a restaurant in North Korea.
On 30 May 2014, the Supreme Court tried Missionary Kim, found him guilty of spying and attempting to set up an underground church, and sentenced him to life imprisonment in labour camp. After the trial, North Korea’s state news agency KCNA said the defendant confessed to the crimes. The agency reported that prosecutors had sought the death penalty but that the court imposed the life sentence after he had “sincerely repented”.
The authorities tracked down 33 North Korean women who had been trained by Missionary Kim in China and sent them all to labour camp. It was widely reported that the women had been accused of trying to overthrow the North Korean regime by working with Missionary Kim to set up five hundred churches and that they were to be executed in a cell at the State Security Department, but this has never been confirmed.
7 October 2013 Missionary Kim Jong Uk went into North Korea from China, with religious materials.
8 October 2013 He was arrested and interrogated.
27 February 2014 Missionary Kim appeared before North Korean media to read a statement apologising for “anti-state crimes”.
30 May 2014 The Supreme Court tried Missionary Kim and found him guilty of spying and attempting to set up an underground church, and sentenced him to life imprisonment in labour camp.
(Chosun Ilbo, CNN, Guardian, New York Daily Times, New York Times, Release International, Voice of the Martyrs Korea, World Watch Monitor)