August 9, 2017 11:26 am
Updated: August 9, 2017 5:17 pm

Who is the Canadian pastor that was imprisoned in North Korea?

ABOVE: Canadian pastor released by North Korea over health concerns.


A Mississauga pastor imprisoned in North Korea has been freed after more than two and a half years in jail.

Hyeon Soo Lim, a South Korean-born Canadian citizen was serving a life sentence of hard labour after being convicted of crimes against the state. But he was “released on sick bail” Wednesday by the country’s top court, state-run news agency KCNA said.

READ MORE: North Korea releases Canadian pastor serving life sentence in prison

Why was Lim in North Korea?

In January 2015, Lim, who is in his 60s, headed to the isolated country for a humanitarian mission. He travelled from China with a companion from his Korean church in Mississauga, Ont., the Light Korean Presbyterian Church.

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Lisa Pak, a spokeswoman for the church, said the pastor went to North Korea on a humanitarian trip, which he had done more than a hundred times before.

One of the projects Lim spearheaded “aims to help the people there live sustainably,” she said at the time, adding “they can grow their own food now, so they don’t always have to receive aid.”

READ MORE: Family says Canadian pastor being detained in North Korea

The Light Korean Presbyterian Church said Lim was due to return Feb. 4 from what was described as a “routine” trip to a Rajin in northeastern North Korea where the church supports a nursery, orphanage and nursing home. But his family never heard from him.

VIDEO: Parishioners react to news of Canadian pastor’s release from North Korea

Months later, his family found out he was being detained and charged for a number of crimes including harming the dignity of the supreme leadership, using religion to destroy the North Korean system and disseminating negative propaganda about the North

WATCH: Toronto pastor slapped with hard labour life sentence in North Korea

In December 2015, he was sentenced to life in prison with hard labour by North Korea’s Supreme Court last week after a 90-minute trial for what the court called crimes against the state.

State prosecutors sought the death penalty.

Time in prison

In January 2016, Lim told CNN in an interview that he spent eight hours a day digging holes at a labour camp where he is the only prisoner.

READ MORE: Canadian pastor held in N. Korean labour camp says he digs holes 8 hours a day

He told CNN he had not seen any other prisoners and worked six days a week, digging holes for the planting of apple trees in the prison orchard. He said there were always two guards watching him.

Lim stands during his trial at a North Korean court in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang December 16, 2015.

KCNA/File Photo via REUTERS

In letters to family, friends, and members of his church Lim complained of stomach pain and high blood pressure, according to CNN.

“I wasn’t originally a labourer, so the labour was hard at first,” Lim told CNN through an interpreter. “But now I’ve gotten used to it.”

He told CNN he was sentenced for openly criticizing North Korea’s three generations of leaders.

READ MORE: Vigil planned at Parliament Hill for pastor held in North Korean prison

“I admit I’ve violated this government’s authority, system and order,” Lim said in the interview.

Richard Ha, a spokesman for his church, told The Canadian Press that Lim steered clear of politics on previous trips to North Korea.

WATCH: North Korea organizes first appearance by detained Toronto pastor

Life in Canada

Lim started the Light Korean Presbyterian Church nearly three decades ago, shortly after he immigrated from South Korea. He grew the congregation from about a dozen people in 1986 to more than 3,000 members today, Pak said. It is now one of the largest churches in Canada.

He also ran a smaller church in downtown Toronto that caters to young people.

READ MORE: North Korea calls Canada, Trudeau’s reaction to jailed pastor ‘malicious slander’

North Korea has very strict rules against any missionary or religious activities that it sees as threatening the supremacy of its ruling regime. Merely leaving a Bible in a public place can lead to an arrest and possibly severe punishment.

With files from the Canadian Press

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