Canadian pastor (60) sentenced to hard labour for life by North Korea
North Korea's highest court has sentenced a South Korea-born Canadian pastor to hard labour for life for subversion, the North's official KCNA news agency reported yesterday, a punishment condemned by Canada as "unduly harsh".
Hyeon Soo Lim, the head pastor at a Toronto church that is one of Canada's largest, has been held by North Korea since February. He appeared on North Korean state media earlier this year confessing to crimes against the state.
His church, the 3,000-member Light Korean Presbyterian Church, has said Mr Lim (60) had visited the North more than 100 times since 1997 and had helped establish an orphanage and a nursing home there.
Mr Lim admitted during the trial to "not only viciously defaming the highest dignity of Korea and its system but also possessing the wicked intention of trying to topple the Republic by staging an anti-state conspiracy," KCNA said.
The court said Mr Lim had attempted to overthrow the North Korean government and undermine its social system with "religious activities" for the past 18 years, China's official Xinhua news agency reported. The prosecution sought the death penalty, but the defence asked for leniency despite the gravity of his crimes "so that he can witness for himself the reality of the nation of the Sun as it grows in power and prosperity," KCNA said.
The court sentenced him to hard labour for life, it said.
The Canadian government said it was dismayed by the "unduly harsh sentence" imposed, particularly given Mr Lim's "age and fragile health" and said it had not been able to meet with Mr Lim since his detention, despite repeated requests.
KCNA did not mention what specific activities Mr Lim engaged in, but Xinhua reported that Mr Lim had confessed to helping people defect from North Korea, and had met the US ambassador to Mongolia regarding the plans.
North Korea previously sentenced a Korean-American missionary, Kenneth Bae, to 15 years of hard labour but released him last year after holding him for two years.
In July, Lim appeared at a news conference in North Korea and confessed that he had travelled to the country on the pretext of humanitarian work and gathered information that he used in sermons outside the country to drive the regime to a collapse "with the love of God." Lim has lived in Canada since 1986 and is a Canadian citizen.
His church said in March that Lim has "a very serious health problem, very high blood pressure, he's on a prescription, and his family is anxious to send medicine."
Both North Korea and neighbouring China have clamped down on Christian groups in recent years. Last year, Pyongyang released three detained Americans including Bae and another man who had left a copy of the Bible at a club.
It freed a South Korean national with a US green card in October this year after holding him for six months.