After facing a 90-minute trial in North Korea’s highest court, Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim was sentenced to a life term of hard labor in a North Korean prison for committing “crimes against the state.”
The pastor, who is of South Korean origin, lives in Toronto but has traveled to Pyongyang for humanitarian aid missions for nearly two decades. Mr. Lim was head of the Light Korean Presbyterian Church, and had last traveled to Pyongyang on Jan. 31, 2015 before being detained during the Ebola outbreak.
Lim is married with one son and has been an evangelical pastor in Toronto for 28 years. According to his family, his visits to North Korea were to support a nursing home, nursery, and orphanage. His most recent trip was to establish an aid project in the northeastern city of Rajin.
“It was not a political trip, it was about helping people,” Lisa Pak, a pastor at Light Korean and church spokeswoman told The Christian Science Monitor in March. “He doesn’t hide [his faith] but he doesn’t advertise it. He doesn’t say he’s a pastor. He’s a humanitarian in Korea. He isn’t ‘Reverend,’ he’s Mr. Hyeon. We think [Korean authorities] know who he is.”
Lim has been detained since February, and the North Korean government news agency reported that he admitted to using his humanitarian work as a “guise" for "subversive plots and activities in a sinister bid to build a religious state.”
“The supreme court announced that Lim was guilty of joining the United States and South Korea in anti-[North Korean] human rights ‘racket’ and fabricating and circulating false propaganda materials tarnishing the country’s image,” the Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported.
He reportedly confessed on national North Korean television to plotting to overthrow the state, stating, “North Korea should be collapsed with the love of ‘God.’ ”
Lim’s church began its mission in North Korea in 1996, and its charity work was reportedly under the protection of Jang Song-thaek, leader Kim Jong-un’s uncle who was executed by Kim 14 months ago.
North Korean authorities are highly sensitive to any potential cases of proselytizing; Lim is only the most recent case in what is becoming a common practice of foreigners in North Korea being detained for “subversion.”
In September 2014, American Matthew Todd Miller was sentenced to six years’ hard labor for committing “hostile acts” – he left a Bible in his hotel room – but was released two months later. Similarly, American Kenneth Bae was arrested in November 2012 for unspecified “hostile acts,” and was hospitalized after losing 50 pounds in labor camps. Mr. Bae was released along with Mr. Miller.
The sentence comes just weeks after Mr. Kim announced his country had become a "powerful nuclear weapons state ready to detonate a hydrogen bomb." The statement has not yet been confirmed, however.