HONG KONG (AP) — An Australian missionary has been detained while on a tour of North Korea, his family said on Wednesday.
John Short went to North Korea in a regular tour group last week with one other person, who returned to China on Tuesday and told the family Short had been questioned and arrested at his Pyongyang hotel on Sunday, according to a statement released by the family.
The family said it believed that Korean-language Christian pamphlets that Short, 75, was carrying may be the reason why he is being held.
"He was carrying Korean literature on his person and that could be the reason, but again I don't know," said his wife, Karen Short.
Short, from Barmers, South Australia, has lived in Hong Kong for 50 years.
The statement said the tour company reported that North Korean officials refused to take their calls.
Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says it has asked the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang to confirm Short's wellbeing and to seek more information.
Australia has no diplomatic representation in North Korea and is represented in Pyongyang by the Swedish Embassy. North Korea has not made any statements on the matter.
Short's wife said he was visiting North Korea for the second time. His first trip was a year ago "so he knew what he was going into," she said. She said he wanted to be there "rubbing shoulders with people as much as possible."
"There's risk involved. He knew that too, but when you know what you must do, you do it," said his wife.
Staff at the reception desk at Pyongyang's Yanggakdo Hotel, one of the city's main hotels for foreigners, said Short had stayed there but left on Tuesday. Koryo Tours, one of the big tour operators for foreigners to North Korea, said he wasn't one of its customers.
According to a biography of Short on a Christian website, he has been arrested repeatedly by authorities in mainland China while carrying out evangelical work and "speaking out about the brutality against Chinese Christians." The website, Gospel Attract, said Short started visiting mainland China after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976.
While North Korea's constitution guarantees freedom of religion, in practice only sanctioned services are tolerated by the government.
Last year, American missionary Kenneth Bae was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor after being accused of committing hostile acts in North Korea.
Eric Talmadge in Pyongyang contributed to this report.