North Korea freed a Canadian pastor serving a life sentence there on humanitarian grounds, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed Thursday.
Hyeon Soo Lim, also known as Rim Hyon Su, who served at one of the largest churches in Canada, was sentenced to hard labour for life in December 2015 for what North Korea says was an attempt to overthrow the regime.
“Today, I am pleased and relieved to confirm that Pastor Lim has been released from jail in North Korea and that he will soon be reunited with his family and friends in Canada,” Trudeau said in a statement, adding the federal government was “actively engaged” on Lim’s case at “all levels.”
“I want to thank Sweden, our protecting power in North Korea, for assisting us.”
The prime minister said a Canadian delegation led by Special Envoy Daniel Jean travelled to Pyongyang, North Korea to discuss Lim’s case with officials.
“Lim’s health and well-being remain of utmost importance to the Government of Canada, and we are working to ensure that he receives any required medical attention,” he said.
Trudeau added that “operational security considerations” prevented the federal government from discussing the matter further and asked that Lim’s family’s wish for privacy be respected.
“Rim Hyon Su, a Canadian civilian, was released on sick bail according to the decision of the Central Court of the DPRK on August 9, 2017, from the humanitarian viewpoint,” North Korea’s official KCNA news agency said on Wednesday, using the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The release came a day after Canadian officials said a delegation led by the country’s national security adviser had travelled to North Korea to discuss his imprisonment.
Lim’s Toronto-area church has said Lim visited North Korea more than 100 times since 1997 and helped set up an orphanage and nursing home. Last year, Lim told CNN he spends eight hours a day digging holes at a labour camp where he has not seen any other prisoners.
VIDEO: Parishioners react to news of Canadian pastor’s release from North Korea
North Korea is still holding three Americans. The U.S. State Department said last week it would ban U.S. nationals from travelling to the isolated country, beginning in September.
His release comes two months after the death of U.S. colleges student, Otto Warmbier, shortly after he was released from North Korea in a coma.
Warmbier, sentenced last year to 15 years’ hard labour for trying to steal a propaganda item from his hotel during a tour, died in a Cincinnati hospital just days after being released in a coma. The circumstances of his death remain unclear.
Lim’s release also comes in the wake of heightened tensions between North Korea and the U.S. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” and North Korea said it was considering a military strike against the U.S. territory of Guam.
With files from the Associated Press and Global News