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'Hard labour - it's hard': Canadian pastor freed from North Korean jail despite life sentence

A delegation sent by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau petitioned for the release of Hyeon Soo Lim.

Hyeon Soo Lim (centre in black suit) attending a church service in Canada
Hyeon Soo Lim (centre in black suit) attending a church service in Canada
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

A PASTOR FREED this month after more than two years’ detention in a North Korean prison said today that he likely owed his life to his Canadian citizenship.

“If I’m just Korean, maybe they kill me,” Korean-born pastor Hyeon Soo Lim told Canadian public network CBC. “I’m Canadian so they cannot, because they cannot kill the foreigners.”

Asked directly whether being Canadian had saved his life, the 63-year-old cleric replied, “I believe so”.

Lim, pastor of the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga, was arrested in North Korea in January 2015 while on what he and Canadian officials said was a strictly humanitarian mission.

He was accused of unspecified subversive acts – a charge the Canadian government vigorously rejected – and sentenced to a term of life imprisonment at hard labour.

Lim was freed on 9 August, following the intervention of a delegation sent by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Pyongyang said it was granting his release for “medical reasons.”

Says he ‘never preached’

Lim told CBC he had “never preached” in North Korea, emphasising that his many trips to the country were purely for humanitarian reasons, notably to deal with a nursing home and an orphanage founded by his church.

Having rarely spoken English during his two and a half years in detention, the pastor answered most of the questions in his CBC interview in Korean.

He said he had been forced to admit to subversive activities, explaining, “They wrote down what I needed to say in front of the people and I followed it”.

Lim said he was never mistreated, even if he was forced to work in difficult conditions. “Hard labour – it’s hard,” he said with a smile.

Asked about the recent tensions between North Korea and the United States, he said of the North: “They believe they are weak, and they are threatened by the US, as the US are trying to kill them… That’s why they are preparing the nuclear weapons in North Korea.

They think: Why is the US allowed to have those nuclear weapons, and why not in North Korea?

The pastor thanked the Canadian authorities for their role in his liberation, said he bore no grudge against the North, and added that he would not hesitate to return there if allowed to do so.

© AFP 2017

Read: Last US defector to North Korea died pledging loyalty to the ‘great leader Kim Jong-Un’

Read: Trump praises ‘wise’ North Korea decision to back off Guam

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