Australian man John Short, detained in North Korea for allegedly spreading Christianity, has been released and is expected to arrive in Beijing later on Monday.
The 75-year-old missionary was arrested in Pyongyang in mid-February after he allegedly distributed religious pamphlets at a Buddhist temple and in a crowded train.
It’s understood Mr Short had already left Pyongyang aboard a flight bound for Beijing.
His wife, Karen, told AAP she had not yet spoken to her husband but was overjoyed by the news.
“I’m very happy. I’m amazingly thankful,” she said from Hong Kong.
Ms Short said her husband had left North Korea and was expected to arrive in the Chinese capital later on Monday.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) earlier confirmed that Mr Short had been released.
“The government has confirmed through the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang that Mr Short has been released and was being deported from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK),” a DFAT spokesperson said.
Australia has no diplomatic representation in North Korea, and has been seeking information about Mr Short through the Swedish embassy.
“Australian consular officials stand ready to provide assistance to Mr Short to ensure he can return to his home in Hong Kong as soon as possible,” the DFAT spokesperson said.
Mr 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.
The North’s official news agency KCNA reported that Mr Short had apologised and admitted to violating North Korean laws, adding the decision to expel him 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.
In a handwritten apology, attributed to Mr Short, the missionary said he realised his actions were an “indelible hostile act against the independent right and law of the DPRK”.
“I am willing to bow down on my knees to request this tolerance of the DPRK and the Korean people,” the letter said.
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.
Mr 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 and 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 Mr Short had been facing the possibly of years in jail.
By Karlis Salna, AAP