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North Korea: Canadian church leader freed on health grounds

09 August 2017

Canadian church leader freed on health grounds

Hyeun Soo Lim, the Korean Canadian church leader sentenced to life in prison with hard labour, has been freed 'on sick bail', according to a North Korean state news agency. Convicted of numerous charges in December 2015, by the country's Supreme Court, including an attempt to overthrow the government, he had been detained in North Korea since February 2015.

His release comes one day after a special envoy of the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, arrived in Pyongyang.

Lim, head pastor at the Light Presbyterian Church in Toronto, had visited North Korea more than 100 times to distribute humanitarian aid. Lim's church lost contact with him in January 2015. A month later it was revealed that Lim had been arrested and accused of slandering the North Korean leadership, trying to overthrow the country and establish a religious state.

At a press conference in July 2015, Lim was forced to read out a public confession. He received a life sentence. Diplomatic efforts to secure Lim's release seemed to have failed.

"Pastors like Lim, who have seen so much of how North Korea treats its prisoners, cannot easily be released," said one source.

Other victims

Lim's release comes weeks after 22-year-old American student Otto Warmbier died at home, following his release from his 15-month detention for stealing a small flag from his Pyongyang hotel.

Three Korean-Americans are still detained in North Korea, two of whom taught at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology - Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song. Tony Kim, like Hyeun Soo Lim, was involved with work in orphanages, and it was for this he was apparently detained, not his teaching at the university.

The third, Kim Dong Chul, a South Korea-born businessman and naturalised US citizen, is serving a sentence of 10 years' hard labour for 'espionage'.

Meanwhile, a North Korean man, Kim Seung Mo, 61, was arrested in early June on 'spying' charges after meeting Christian relatives in China.

In May 2014, North Korea sentenced South Korean pastor Kim Jong-Wook to a life of hard labour. As a missionary, Kim operated from the Chinese border city, Dandong, where he provided shelter, food and other aid to North Korean refugees who crossed the border seeking relief from the famine in their country. Kim also taught the refugees about the Bible.

North Korean agents infiltrated his network and convinced him to visit their country, which he did on 8 October 2013. Kim was expecting to find out what had happened to some refugees with whom he had lost contact, but instead he was arrested, interrogated and possibly tortured.

In February 2014, Kim told assembled North Korean television cameras he had spied for the South Korean government, had given money to North Koreans to set up 500 'underground' churches and attempted to overthrow the regime. After a trial in May 2014, North Korea's state media reported that prosecutors had sought the death penalty for Kim, but the court imposed the life sentence after the pastor had 'sincerely repented'.

'War' against Christianity

The arrests of Kim and other missionaries - such as Korean-American Kenneth Bae, and Australian John Short, both of whom were later released - are part of the North Korean government's ongoing war against Christianity. And because these are foreign citizens, then the world gets to hear about their stories.

For North Korean Christians, of course, there is no diplomatic help. North Korea is number 1 on the Open Doors World Watch List which highlights the top 50 countries where Christians face the most severe persecution. Open Doors estimates that there are up to 300,000 Christians in North Korea, of whom 50-70,000 are in labour camps or prison. Those who have escaped detection keep their faith hidden.

This crackdown against Christians has only been intensified in recent months, as tension between the USA and North Korea has focused attention on the regime. North Korea has been extending its crackdown on Christian activities in its own country and the Chinese border area.

But despite all the arrests, the North Korean government has not won its 'war' against Christianity.

The church has faced almost 70 years of severe persecution, but it is still alive.

Source: World Watch Monitor

Please pray:

  • For the tens of thousands of Christians in North Korean labour camps
  • That Pastor Lim will make a full recovery
  • That tensions between North Korea and the USA will not escalate further.

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Find out more about persecution in North Korea.