North Korea has denied any involvement in the killing of a priest who provided aid to defectors fleeing the isolated country and accused the South plotting to overthrow the regime by making such accusations.
As earlier reported, Han Choong Yeol, 49, an ethnic Korean with Chinese citizenship, had helped North Korean refugees since 1993 by giving them food, medicine, clothing and other goods they needed for survival back in the isolated country.
Last weekend, Han, who was a priest at Changbai Church, in China's Jilin Province, was found dead, his body visibly maimed by stab and axe wounds. Choi Sung-yong, head of the civic organization Come Back Home, told local media on Monday that he heard from sources that "three North Korean agents came over [to Jilin Province] and killed the pastor, returning back to North Korea afterward."
However, Pyongyang's propaganda outlet Uriminzokkiri released a statement Thursday calling the claims "absurd anti-North Korean sophistry," and accused South Korea of plotting to overthrow the regime, UPI reports.
"After the murder of Pastor Han [Chungryeol] on April 30, the puppet authorities are once again yammering up clichés about the North," the statement read, further calling the South a "chronic abuser of the North" that "retreats into North Korean stereotypes whenever public opinion turns against the government."
The North Korean authorities also accused the South Koreans of engaging in a group kidnapping, which UPI believes could be in reference to the recent defections of 13 North Koreans.
"The truth will be revealed," Pyongyang said. "The South Korean authorities are addicted to dirty slander...but their anti-human rights crimes can never be concealed."
People who worked with Han described him as "extremely passionate for North Koreans" who knew of the dangers associated with his work: In November 2014, a deacon of his church was kidnapped and never heard of again.
Han leaves behind a wife, a son and a daughter as well as the local 600-member church he pastored.
The Telegraph notes that assisting defectors in northeast China has become increasingly dangerous, prompting several groups to suspend their operations. China also does little to protect those seeking refuge in the country, the report reveals.
"We have had reports of this sort of thing happening before and we have seen a sharp increase in the security on the border with China since Kim Jong-un came to power", Robert Park, a founding member of the Worldwide Coalition to Stop Genocide in North Korea and a former prisoner of North Korea, told the outlet.
"American and South Korean citizens doing this sort of work in north-east China might be a little safer, but Chinese citizens are in danger because their own government does nothing to protect them", he added.
North Korea has also been ranked as the worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution; Open Doors USA estimates that between 50,000 - 70,000 Christians are currently suffering from torture in the country's labor camps.
"Christians try to hide their faith as far as possible to avoid arrest and being sent to labor camps with horrific conditions," reads the report, in part.
"Thus, one's Christian faith usually remains a well-protected secret, and most parents refrain from introducing their children to the Christian faith in order to make sure that nothing slips their tongue when they are asked."