North Korea to Execute 33 Who Talked to Missionary

According to reports, those who converted will be put to death

By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff

Posted Mar 5, 2014 8:51 AM CST

(Newser) – More reported brutality in North Korea: A source tells the Chosun Ilbo that 33 North Koreans will be executed because they were connected to a South Korean missionary who was arrested in the North last year. Kim Jung Wook made his first public appearance since his arrest on Thursday, admitting he tried to establish underground Christian churches in North Korea and claiming South Korea's spy agency helped him—a claim Seoul denies. Dozens of Pyongyang residents believed to have been in contact with Kim disappeared after the press conference, the Global Post reports, and now 33 who converted to Christianity or received money from Kim to set up churches are reportedly accused of trying to overthrow the government and set to be executed in a secret cell. In his statement last week—which, the AP notes, could have been coerced—Kim said he "was thinking of turning North Korea into a religious country, and destroying its present government and political system."

Some, however, believe Pyongyang is behind all of this and is using Kim to support its claim that underground churches are actually rebel outposts funded by South Korean spies; one South Korean intelligence source in China claims Kim was kidnapped by North Korean agents and brought into North Korea against his will, the Daily Mail reports. Meanwhile, there are also reports that Choe Ryong Hae, who succeeded Kim Jong Un's doomed uncle Jang Song Thaek after Jang's execution, has now also been arrested and may be purged, according to the Chosun Ilbo and other outlets. But Seoul urges wariness, noting, "Our official position is that nothing has been confirmed about the report as of now. However, we are keeping a close eye on the situation."

Kim Jung Wook, a South Korean Baptist missionary, speaks during a news conference in Pyongyang, North Korea, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014.
Kim Jung Wook, a South Korean Baptist missionary, speaks during a news conference in Pyongyang, North Korea, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014.   (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
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