According to North Korea’s Arirang-Meari news site, the recent murder of a Korean-Chinese pastor in Changbai Korean Autonomous County was carried out by South Korean intelligence agents.
Pastor Han Choong-ryeol, a Chinese citizen, was found dead from multiple knife and axe wounds in the Changbai Mountains, on the evening of April 30, several hours after he had left his church. He had reportedly received a phone call from an acquaintance before he left.
Han was widely known as the person overseeing the largest defection route out of North Korea, via the border city of Hyesan, across from Changbai, and the Yalu river.
“If those (murder suspects) were those who often met the pastor, then they have to be NIS agents,” the Arirang-Meari report claimed, stating that “It doesn’t make sense for Pastor Han to blindly follow someone he doesn’t know at all.”
The site said that Han was deeply involved in preaching to North Korean defectors and leading operations to help them defect to South Korea.
“Those who took Pastor Han the day he was murdered were people who used to visit Changbai Church from time to time,” Arirang-Meari wrote citing an anonymous source.
“Those who have showed up at the church are South Korean acquaintances of Pastor Han. I think they might have come from South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS).”
Another unnamed Chinese source also said that the recent mass-defection of North Korean restaurant workers, which Pyongyang calls a mass-abduction, is somehow related to Han’s death.
“Since news spread in this region that the NIS was directly involved in the mass-abduction of 12 female North Korean workers, Pastor Han, who was engaged in sending defectors to South Korea, might have been under a lot of pressure due to the locals’ view,” the Chinese source said.
“Meanwhile, he expressed his dissatisfaction with how the NIS is handling the business and publicly told people that he might quit working for the church. After that incident, Pastor Han disappeared.”
According to the Arirang-Maeari report, Chinese locals in the region believe the murder of Pastor Han was carried out by the NIS to keep attention off the backlash caused by the “forging” of the mass-abduction case.
“I think the NIS is making North Korea the scapegoat for the shocking murder of Pastor Han to change the direction of public opinion,” a source said.
Another North Korean media outlet, DPRK Today, made a similar claim the same day.
Previously, a South Korean pastor activist told NK News that Han’s plan to build underground churches in North Korea was the reason for his murder.
“Since last year, U.S. organizations have started funding him to establish underground churches in North Korea,” said Pastor Kim Hee-tae, president of the missionary organization North Korea Human Rights Mission.
The Arirang-Maeari news site began operating March 1, calling to be an independent, privately owned media outlet.
Father, we give You thanks for the life of this pastor who poured out his life for the sake of Christians on their journey from oppression in North Korea, through China, and on to freedom in the nation of South Korea. While questions remain about the details of his slaying, You know the truth and You know all the ways he has served you. Thank you that he is in Your presence now, whole, at peace, and freely singing Your praises. And he has been united with North Korean brothers and sisters who have given their earthly lives for the sake of Your name. We pray now for Christians who remain in bondage to the tyranny of the North Korean regime that You will comfort and sustain them, and that You will release them from this bondage. We pray also for those who are lost in spiritual darkness that You will use courageous messengers of Your gospel to draw them into repentance, faith and the brilliant light of Christ. In the name of Jesus who died and rose again that we might be called sons of the Most High God.