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North Korea to free a Korean-American missionary with ties to an Orange County, California, church

North Korea announced Friday (May 27, 2011) that it plans to release a Christian missionary with ties to an Orange County, California, church, who was arrested late last year.

Dan Wooding June 2006

Jun Young-Su, who has been held in a North Korean prison since November, reportedly faced charges of proselytizing in the communist nation which is illegal in the country.

Former US president, Jimmy Carter, and Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, had both raised his case with officials, during recent visits to North Korea.

“Jun, also known as Eddie, is reportedly about 60 years old and a naturalized U.S. citizen. He had been working legally inside North Korea at the time he was detained,” wrote Barbara Demick in the Los Angeles Times (www.latimes.com).

“The investigation proved that Jun committed a serious crime … which he frankly admitted himself,” the news service said in a statement.

“The government in Pyongyang has not said what the charges were against Jun, but news reports said he was accused of trying to spread Christianity,” said Demick.

According to a story by Doug Irving in the Orange County Register (www.ocregister.com), Jun Young-Su had faced indictment after he admitted his crime, the official Korean Central News Agency announced earlier this year. North Korea said in a state media report on Friday that it had “decided to release Jun Young-Su on humanitarian grounds.”

The story went on to say that South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency has described Young-Su as a missionary and businessman in his 60s. Citing unnamed sources, it reported in April that he had been accused of unauthorized religious activities.

It added that Young-Su attended Bethel Church, a Korean-American church in Irvine, California, until about eight years ago, church officials said. They did not remember him, but Pastor Jonathan Chang said the church’s reverend, who did remember Young-Su, had described him as “a good guy, a faithful servant.”

“The North Korean statement did not say when Young-Su will be allowed to return home. It said he had received medical treatment and was allowed to make regular contact with the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, which represents U.S. interests in the country. It also said he had been allowed to talk by phone with his family,” said Irving.

“My understanding is that he does not have any ties to Orange County at this time, or for the past eight years,” Sam Kim, the executive director of the Korean Church Coalition for North Korea Freedom (www.kccnk.org), said in April. The group is headquartered in Buena Park and works on North Korean issues.

It had called on North Korea to release Young-Su on humanitarian grounds.

“Kim said he believes Young-Su does have a medical condition that would require treatment, but he declined to speak in more detail,” Irving stated.

“The Korean Church Coalition thanks all those who are praying for the safe return of Jun Young-Su, and pray that the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea releases Mr. Young on humanitarian grounds,” the coalition said in April in a prepared statement.

North Korea decided to release Young-Su after a visiting U.S. envoy “expressed regret” on behalf of the U.S. government for his alleged crime, the state news report said. Robert King, the U.S envoy for North Korea human rights, “assured that (the government) would make all its efforts to prevent the recurrence of similar incident,” the news agency said.

“Officially, North Korea guarantees freedom of religion. In practice, authorities crack down on Christians, who are seen as a Western-influenced threat. The distribution of Bibles and secret prayer services can mean banishment to a labor camp or execution,” Irving’s story concluded.

“Various Christian groups and individuals have been drawn to the communist nation to do charitable work, but at times they have gotten into legal trouble because of North Korea’s zero-tolerance policy toward religion. Carrying a Bible is a criminal offense in North Korea,” said Barbara Demick in her LA Times story.

“Several visiting U.S. delegates have pressed for Jun’s release, most recently Robert King, the U.S. envoy for North Korean human rights, who has been touring the country this week to assess its need of food assistance. King is due to leave North Korea on Saturday, raising the possibility that he will escort Jun out of the country.

“Former President Carter also called for Jun’s release during a recent visit to North Korea. In a statement, the news agency mentioned Carter’s appeal to release Jun as well as a similar plea from the Rev. Franklin Graham, the son of evangelist Billy Graham.

CBN (www.cbn.com) says that media reports say that Jun and two Chinese men were doing missionary work when authorities arrested them.

“The communist nation views any religious activity as a potential threat to the regime,” said the CBN story.

“A U.S. special envoy for human rights is in Pyongyang and reportedly negotiated the release of the American Christian.”

Several Americans have been detained by North Korean officials in recent years for entering the country illegally.

In 2010, former US President Jimmy Carter helped secure the release of Aijalon Mahli Gomes, a US citizen who had been fined roughly $600,000 and sentenced to eight years of hard labor for crossing over the Chinese border into North Korea.

Two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who had entered North Korea in March 2009 and were arrested and sentenced to 12 years hard labor, were released in August 2009 after an intervention by former US President Bill Clinton.

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