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World & Nation

North Korea releases California man

North Korea released a California businessman who had been imprisoned since November and reportedly faced charges of proselytizing, which is illegal in the country, according to wire service reports.

Jun Young-su of Orange County was released on humanitarian grounds, according to the official Korean Central News Agency. He arrived in Beijing early Saturday, the Associated Press said. Jun, also known as Eddie, is reportedly about 60 years old and a naturalized U.S. citizen. He was working legally in North Korea when he was detained.

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

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

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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 on religion. Even carrying a Bible is a criminal offense in North Korea.

Several visiting U.S. delegates had pressed for Jun’s release, most recently Robert King, the U.S. envoy for North Korean human rights, who was touring the country this week to assess its need for food assistance. King escorted Jun out of the country.

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

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, meanwhile, wrapped up a visit to China in which he reportedly appealed to President Hu Jintao for economic and humanitarian assistance.

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barbara.demick@latimes.com


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