Leigh Jones | WORLD News Service |
North Korea’s highest court has sentenced a Canadian pastor to a lifetime of hard labor after convicting him of crimes against the state.
Hyeon Soo Lim, who pastors the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto, was accused of harming the dignity of the supreme leadership, trying to use religion to destroy the North Korean system, disseminating negative propaganda about the North to Koreans overseas, and helping U.S. and South Korean authorities lure and abduct North Korean citizens, along with aiding their programs to assist defectors from the North.
Lim, 60, has been in detention since February, when he was arrested during a trip to visit some of the humanitarian projects he supports, including a nursing home, a nursery, and an orphanage.
In a news conference held in July, Lim admitted to trying to overthrow the North Korean government. Prosecutors sought the death penalty in his case. His North Korean lawyers asked for mercy in light of his confession.
But Lim’s supporters in Canada deny he did anything wrong. After his arrest, a church spokeswoman said he would not have been doing any proselytizing, which is illegal in the communist country.
“He knows the language, he knows the nature of the government, so we don’t see that as a legitimate reason that he would be detained,” she said. “We don’t believe that’s the way he would have behaved. He’s very wise about that.”
According to the church, Lim has made more than 100 trips to North Korea. He immigrated to Canada from South Korea in 1986 with his wife and son.
Canadian officials condemned the harsh sentence. Newly elected Prime Minster Justin Trudeau said he was “very concerned” about the situation and hoped to be able to stand up for Lim’s rights. But North Korea has blocked all attempts by the Canadian government to speak to Lim.
“Despite repeated requests, Canadian officials have not been able to meet with him to verify his health and well-being,” said Diana Khaddaj, a spokeswoman for Canada’s Global Affairs Department. “The trial was our first opportunity to see him. This is a serious violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the right of states to have consular access to their citizens.”
During the 90-minute hearing, Lim sat with his head bowed and answered questioned in muted tones. He entered and left the courtroom in handcuffs.
Lim is the latest in a long line of foreign nationals arrested and in some cases given harsh prison sentences in North Korea.
A Hong Kong-based Australian evangelist caught handing out Bibles in public was freed just a few weeks after his arrest in early 2014. He apologized for offending the government. Later that year, Jeffrey Fowle gained his freedom after a six-month detention for leaving a Bible in a restaurant bathroom. A month later, North Korea freed Matthew Miller, sentenced in September 2014 to six years hard labor for entering the country illegally. At the same time, officials freed missionary Kenneth Bae, sentenced in 2012 to 15 years hard labor for anti-government activities. The U.S. government worked for months on attempts to secure Bae’s release.
All of the U.S. captives were forced to participate in propaganda press events of some kind.
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