South Korea is considering restricting Christian missionaries' travel to the Middle East, where their evangelical work makes them vulnerable to terrorist attack.
Foreign Ministry officials said Thursday that the government may impose restrictions because missionary work in some Middle Eastern nations threatens the safety of not only the missionaries but other South Koreans as well.
"Their work goes against local sentiment and makes them targets of al-Qaida or the Taliban," a ministry official said on customary condition of anonymity, citing office policy. "There are also strong possibilities that the safety of ordinary citizens could be threatened."
South Korea has one of the largest populations of missionaries abroad. The Korea World Missions Association said about 19,000 Koreans are doing missionary work around the world.
The Foreign Ministry said dozens of missionaries have been expelled for Christian proselytizing in recent weeks from nations where it is banned, including Iran, Jordan and Yemen.
According to the most recent U.S. State Department human rights report on Iran, trying to convert Muslims to another faith is illegal. The same report for Jordan states that there is nothing in the constitution or law prohibiting proselytizing but in practice the government restricts the practice and has deported and detained Christians activists.
The State Department's Yemen report said that under the Shariah law that governs the country, conversion from Islam is forbidden and non-Muslims are prohibited from proselytizing.
Measures under consideration by the South Korean government include banning those who have a record of deportation for evangelical work in Middle Eastern nations from entering those countries again, the official said.
The Korea World Missions Association refused to comment Thursday, citing the lack of any official decision. Still, the association said it will hold a meeting of some 140 member organizations later this week to discuss a response.
In 2007, 23 religious workers from a South Korean church were kidnapped in Afghanistan. The Taliban killed two of them and released the others after South Korea's government pledged to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.
In June, a South Korean woman with an international medical aid agency was kidnapped and killed in Yemen along with other foreigners. Al-Qaida was blamed for the attack.
Four South Korean tourists were also killed in Yemen in March in a bombing also blamed on al-Qaida. A suicide bomber subsequently struck a convoy carrying South Korean officials sent to Yemen to investigate the bombing and relatives of those killed. No one was hurt.
Associated Press Writer Rebecca Santana in Cairo contributed to this report.