After Bae release, Christian groups tread carefully in North Korea

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Americans in North Korea - Kenneth Bae - Matthew Miller
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After Bae release, Christian groups tread carefully in North Korea
Kenneth Bae, center, who had been held in North Korea since 2012, is hugged after arriving Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., after they were freed during a top-secret mission. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Kenneth Bae, left, who had been held in North Korea since 2012, hugs his mother Myunghee Bae after arriving, Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., after they were freed during a top-secret mission by James Clapper, U.S. director of national intelligence. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Matthew Miller, left, who had been held in North Korea since April, 2014, is greeted after arriving Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., after he were freed during a top-secret mission. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Kenneth Bae, right, who had been held in North Korea since 2012, talks to reporters after he arrived Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., after he was freed during a top-secret mission. At left is his sister Terri Chung. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
In this image taken from video, U.S. citizen Matthew Todd Miller speaks at an undisclosed location in North Korea Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. Two Americans, Miller and Jeffrey Edward Fowle, charged with “anti-state” crimes in North Korea say in a video that they expect to be tried soon and possibly receive long prison terms, and appeal for help from the U.S. government. They made the comments in the video shot by a local AP Television News crew. The crew was taken to a location to meet the detained Americans after repeated requests to North Korean authorities to see them. (AP Photo/APTN)
Kenneth Bae, right, who had been held in North Korea since 2012, talks to reporters after he arrived Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., after he was freed during a top-secret mission. Looking on from left are Bae's brother-in-law Andrew Chung, his mother, Myunghee Bae, and his sister, Terri Chung. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Kenneth Bae, who had been held in North Korea since 2012, smiles as he talks to reporters Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., after he was freed during a top-secret mission. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Kenneth Bae, center, who had been held in North Korea since 2012, talks to reporters after he arrived Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., after he was freed during a top-secret mission. Looking on from left are Bae's brother-in-law Andrew Chung, his mother, Myunghee Bae, his sister, Terri Chung, and nieces Ella and Caitlin Chung. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Kenneth Bae, who had been held in North Korea since 2012, greets his mother Myunghee Bae after arriving, Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., after they were freed during a top-secret mission by James Clapper, U.S. director of national intelligence. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
The Plane carrying Kenneth Bae, who had been held in North Korea since 2012, and Matthew Miller, who had been held since April, 2014, arrives Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., after they were freed during a top-secret mission by James Clapper, U.S. director of national intelligence. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Matthew Miller, top, who had been held in North Korea since April, 2014, walks off the plane after arriving Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., after he were freed during a top-secret mission by James Clapper, U.S. director of national intelligence. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Matthew Miller, center, who had been held in North Korea since April, 2014, is greeted after arriving Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., after he were freed during a top-secret mission. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Kenneth Bae, a American tour guide and missionary serving a 15-year sentence, detained in North Korea, speaks to the Associated Press, Monday, Sept. 1, 2014 in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea has given foreign media access to three detained Americans who said they have been able to contact their families and watched by officials as they spoke, called for Washington to send a representative to negotiate for their freedom. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
A conservative anti-North Korean activist holds a placard calling for the release of detained US missionary Kenneth Bae following a protest against the North Korean regime, in Seoul on Febraury 16, 2014. Rare talks between the rival Koreas ended on an even rarer note of agreement February 14, allowing an under-threat reunion for divided families to go ahead and fuelling hopes of further constructive engagement. AFP PHOTO / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
What appears to be a United States Air Force passenger jet, right, is parked on the tarmac of Sunan International Airport in Pyongyang, North Korea, Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014. The State Department says Jeffrey Fowle, one of three Americans being held in North Korea, has been released. State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Fowle was on his was home Tuesday after negotiators left Pyongyang. She said the U.S. is still trying to free Americans Matthew Miller and Kenneth Bae. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
A conservative anti-North Korean activist holds placards calling for the release of detained US missionary Kenneth Bae following a protest against the North Korean regime, in Seoul on Febraury 16, 2014. Rare talks between the rival Koreas ended on an even rarer note of agreement February 14, allowing an under-threat reunion for divided families to go ahead and fuelling hopes of further constructive engagement. AFP PHOTO / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
Kenneth Bae, an American tour guide and missionary serving a 15-year sentence, detained in North Korea, speaks to the Associated Press, Monday, Sept. 1, 2014 in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea has given foreign media access to three detained Americans who said they have been able to contact their families and watched by officials as they spoke, called for Washington to send a representative to negotiate for their freedom. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
A protester carries a portrait of American missionary Kenneth Bae for an anti-North Korea rally in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014, making the anniversary of the birth of North Korea's late leader Kim Jong Il. The protesters called for the release of Bae who has been jailed in North Korea for more than a year. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
American missionary Kenneth Bae speaks to reporters at Pyongyang Friendship Hospital in Pyongyang Monday, Jan. 20, 2014. Bae, 45, who has been jailed in North Korea for more than a year, appealed for the U.S. to do its best to secure his release. (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon)
FILE - In this Jan. 20, 2014 file photo, American missionary Kenneth Bae, right, leaves after speaking to reporters at Pyongyang Friendship Hospital in Pyongyang. Bae, 45, who has been jailed in North Korea for more than a year, appealed for the U.S. to do its best to secure his release. Bae has been returned to a labor camp, prompting worries about his health, his sister Terri Chung said Friday, Feb. 7. (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon, File)
American missionary Kenneth Bae, second from right, arrives to speak to reporters at Pyongyang Friendship Hospital in Pyongyang Monday, Jan. 20, 2014. Bae, 45, who has been jailed in North Korea for more than a year, appealed for the U.S. to do its best to secure his release. (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon)
Jeffrey Fowle, an American detained in North Korea, speaks to the Associated Press, Monday, Sept. 1, 2014 in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea has given foreign media access to three detained Americans who said they have been able to contact their families and watched by officials as they spoke, called for Washington to send a representative to negotiate for their freedom. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Jeffrey Fowle, an American detained in North Korea, speaks to the Associated Press, Monday, Sept. 1, 2014 in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea has given foreign media access to three detained Americans who said they have been able to contact their families and watched by officials as they spoke, called for Washington to send a representative to negotiate for their freedom. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Jeffrey Fowle, an American detained in North Korea, speaks to the Associated Press, Monday, Sept. 1, 2014 in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea has given foreign media access to three detained Americans who said they have been able to contact their families and watched by officials as they spoke, called for Washington to send a representative to negotiate for their freedom. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
The wife and children of Jeffrey Edward Fowle sit with their attorney, Tim Tepe, center, during a news conference at Tepe's office in Lebanon, Ohio. Fowle has been charged with "anti-state" crimes in North Korea. Fowle's family apologized Tuesday to the communist country and pleaded for its government to show him mercy, saying in a statement they're "desperate for his release and return home." From left are: Fowle's sons, Alex, 13, and Chris, 11; wife Tatyana, 40, and daughter Stephanie, 9. (AP Photo/Amanda Lee Myers)
Tanya Fowle, right, wife of Jeffrey Fowle, listens as attorney Tim Tepe reads a statement from the family, Monday, June 9, 2014, in Lebanon, Ohio. Tepe said that Jeffrey Fowle was on vacation as part of a tour when he was detained in North Korea last week. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)
In this image taken from video, U.S. citizen Jeffrey Edward Fowle speaks at an undisclosed location in North Korea Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. Two Americans, Fowle and Matthew Todd Miller, charged with “anti-state” crimes in North Korea say in a video that they expect to be tried soon and possibly receive long prison terms, and appeal for help from the U.S. government. They made the comments in the video shot by a local AP Television News crew. The crew was taken to a location to meet the detained Americans after repeated requests to North Korean authorities to see them. (AP Photo/APTN)
Tanya Fowle, wife of Jeffrey Fowle, leaves the room after attorney Tim Tepe read a statement from the family, Monday, June 9, 2014, in Lebanon, Ohio. Tepe said that Jeffrey Fowle was on vacation as part of a tour when he was detained in North Korea last week. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)
Tanya Fowle, right, wife of Jeffrey Fowle, listens as attorney Tim Tepe reads a statement from the family, Monday, June 9, 2014, in Lebanon, Ohio. Tepe said that Jeffrey Fowle was on vacation as part of a tour when he was detained in North Korea last week. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)
Mathew Miller, an American detained in North Korea speaks to the Associated Press, Monday, Sept. 1, 2014 in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea has given foreign media access to three detained Americans who said they have been able to contact their families and watched by officials as they spoke, called for Washington to send a representative to negotiate for their freedom. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Mathew Miller, an American detained in North Korea, speaks to the Associated Press, Monday, Sept. 1, 2014 in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea has given foreign media access to three detained Americans who said they have been able to contact their families and watched by officials as they spoke, called for Washington to send a representative to negotiate for their freedom. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Mathew Miller, an American detained in North Korea, waits in a room after speaking to the Associated Press, Monday, Sept. 1, 2014 in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea has given foreign media access to three detained Americans who said they have been able to contact their families and watched by officials as they spoke, called for Washington to send a representative to negotiate for their freedom. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Mathew Miller, an American detained in North Korea, speaks to the Associated Press, Monday, Sept. 1, 2014 in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea has given foreign media access to three detained Americans who said they have been able to contact their families and watched by officials as they spoke, called for Washington to send a representative to negotiate for their freedom. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Mathew Miller, an American detained in North Korea, speaks to the Associated Press, Monday, Sept. 1, 2014 in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea has given foreign media access to three detained Americans who said they have been able to contact their families and watched by officials as they spoke, called for Washington to send a representative to negotiate for their freedom. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
President Barack Obama, joined by outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder, talks about the release of two Americans detained in North Korea, Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington after announcing that he will nominate US Attorney Loretta Lynch to replace Holder. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Jeffrey Fowle talks about being detained in North Korea for nearly six weeks, Friday, Oct. 31, 2014 in Lebanon, Ohio. Fowle, sitting in his attorney's office during the interview, was held for nearly six months in North Korea after leaving a Bible at a nightclub. Christian evangelism is considered a crime in North Korea. Fowle was released on Oct. 22, 2014 and returned to Dayton, Ohio. (AP Photo/Skip Peterson)
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(Reuters) - Christian groups in North Korea are vowing to carry on their missionary work despite mounting risks since Korean-American activist Kenneth Bae was imprisoned two years ago.

North Korea and neighboring China have clamped down on the groups' activities recently, and the organizations say that has forced them to become more secretive. Bae's unexpected release has not changed that.

"We are getting more nervous," said Kim Seung-eun, a missionary for the Caleb Mission, which is based in South Korea's South Chungcheong Province but frequently travels to North Korea. "We have to come up with a strategy to avoid another case like Kenneth Bae's."

The North Korean government arrested Bae in November 2012 at a border crossing with a tour group of Christian students, saying he was plotting to bring down the government through "religious activities" by setting up a base for Christian missionaries at a hotel in the northern city of Rason.

He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor but was released on Saturday after diplomatic bargaining. Bae has remained silent on his missionary work and his imprisonment. On Monday, Bae's sister said he would not do interviews.

Such reticence is necessary, said one U.S.-based activist, because of the dangers involved in propagating religion, especially in an overt, organized way, in a totalitarian state.

"If one person is caught, then everyone else can suffer the consequences," said Sam Kim, executive director of the Korean Church Coalition for North Korea Freedom, which is based in Southern California.

Although there are four state-operated churches in Pyongyang, which outside groups say are merely for show, religion is ruthlessly suppressed in North Korea, where the only acceptable form of devotion is to the country's ruling family and its supreme leader, Kim Jong-un.

Open Doors, a group that monitors religious persecution globally, says North Korea is the worst country to be Christian. It says 70,000 Christians are in labor camps there, though there is no way to corroborate that.

The clamp-down on Christian-backed humanitarian organizations along the North Korea-China border has made it harder for activists to aid fleeing North Koreans as they try to make their way to South Korea via China.

"The people I talk to - the rescuers - say that it's tough right now," said Melanie Kirkpatrick, who has written a history of the "underground railroad," the network that helps people escape from North Korea. Fewer North Koreans are escaping to China, she said.

Meanwhile, activists have become more cautious. Said Joy Jung of Cornerstone International Ministry, a missionary organization based in Seoul: "People who are entering North Korea should not reveal themselves as Christians."

That view is reinforced by one missionary from Peace Corea, also based in Seoul, who declined to be identified.

"We tend to be much more careful than before and are trying to find other ways to spread Christianity in North Korea," said the missionary. "Defectors tend to stay quiet on the issue. Even though Kenneth Bae has been released, we are not planning to be more aggressive with our activities from now on."

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