State security shackled Kim Seung-mo, 61, as he returned to North Korea and tied him up with rope before dragging him from a train station.
Officials arrested Kim as he returned from a trip to China to visit relatives following reports some of his family attend church.
North Korea has been named the most dangerous country in the world for Christians with tens of thousands of worshippers being sent to labour camps, according to charity Open Doors.
Witnesses said Kim, who lives in Wiyon area of Hyesan city in Yanggang province, was seized after neighbours informed state security about his actions.
A source told RFA’s Korean Service: said: “All North Korean travellers returning from China are required to report their whereabouts and details about their activities.
“In Kim’s case, he was arrested on charges of spying because he did not report the fact that his relatives are churchgoers and that the church pastor helped him.”
Witnesses said Kim suffered a split lip and black eyes and appeared to have injured his leg in the struggle with police in front of thousands of pope preparing for a military march.
A second source said: “Since he retired, he hasn’t been doing anything, though he recently visited relatives in China to lend a hand to his wife who sells used clothes on the black market.”
“After he came back from China, he openly told his neighbours that his relatives attended a Christian church, and the church’s pastor collected many used clothes from parishioners for him.
“It seems like someone informed state security agents about him.”
Experts say the regime’s Ministry of State Security acts as the secret police and is known for its human rights abuses.
Christian advocacy charity Open Doors said: “The family that has ruled North Korea for three generations are worshipped like gods, and any suggestion that there is a higher authority than the nation’s leader, Kim Jong-un, is immediately crushed.
“Tens of thousands of Christians are incarcerated in horrific labour camps, and thousands more keep their faith in Christ a complete secret – often their own family members do not know of their faith.”
Dictator Kim Jong-un has imposed a strict crackdown on religion with North Korea’s only ally China also taking a tough line on Christianity.
But tensions between Pyongyang and Beijing have been strained in the wake of North Korea’s repeated attempts to build a nuclear arsenal in defiance of UN sanctions.
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