While visiting North Korea, Canadian Pastor Hyeon Soo Lim was accused and convicted of various crimes against the state. According to reports, the 60-year-old man is accused of plotting to overthrow government officials in an attempt to promote his religious beliefs.
Following a trial that lasted fewer than two hours, the pastor was sentenced to life in prison where he may be expected to perform hard labor.
— People’s Daily,China (@PDChina) December 16, 2015
A native of South Korea, Lim has been a Canadian citizen for nearly 30 years. However, as pastor of the Light Korean Presbyterian Church, he often travels to North Korea on mission trips. As reported by The Guardian, the Canadian pastor traveled to North Korea “more than 100” times in the last 20 years. Although he had few issues in the past, his most recent trip was a disaster.
— Eliott C. McLaughlin (@EliottCNN) December 16, 2015
Pastor Hyeon Soo Lim’s family and friends said he traveled to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to visit a nursery, a nursing home, and an orphanage in Rajin — which he has been supporting for the last 18 years.
On January 30, the Canadian pastor entered North Korea via the Chinese border. Less than one month later, he was arrested and detained on suspicion of plotting against the government.
In general, North Korea prohibits religious activity unless it is associated with a state-run church. Despite the well-known ban, missionaries travel to the DPRK every year to perform humanitarian work.
Fortunately, a majority of the missionaries are able to complete their work without incident. However, Pastor Lim is not the first missionary to be accused and convicted of hostile acts against the North Korean government.
As reported by CBC, the DPRK is notorious for its massive and sometimes brutal political prison camps, which reportedly house an estimated 100,000 inmates. Thankfully, “westerners detained in the country, while sometimes exposed to the prison system, have generally had a shorter ride.”
During the ten months preceding his trial, Lim was refused personal contact with anyone outside the DPRK; contrary to regulations set forth in the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.
CNN reports Canadian officials were specifically concerned as they were unable to “verify his health and well-being.”
Although he was unable to contact his family and friends, Hyeon Soo Lim appeared during two news conferences which aired in July and August. During the broadcasts, the pastor appeared to confess to the crimes of which he was accused.
“The purpose that I traveled about several parts of the country on the pretext of ‘aid’ was to build a base to overthrow the system of the country and create a religious state… My biggest crime is my act of blindness in severely insulting the highest dignity and system, the DPRK.”
It is unclear whether the Canadian pastor’s confessions were coerced. However, his family and friends insist the trips were humanitarian in nature and had nothing to do with the political conflict.
After being detained for 10 months, Pastor Lim attended a 90-minute trial where he was convicted on all charges. As punishment for his alleged crimes, he was sentenced to life in prison. As reported by BBC, the 60-year-old man was essentially sentenced “to a life term of hard labor.”
Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs criticized the court’s decision, which they called “an unduly harsh sentence — particularly given his age and fragile health.”
Although officials have pleaded with the DPRK for Pastor Hyeon Soo Lim’s release, they have not cooperated thusfar. As North Korea convicted the Canadian pastor of crimes against the government, he could spend the rest of his life in a hard labor prison camp. However, officials in Canada are not willing to give up their efforts to have him released.