North Korea Frees Canadian Pastor Sentenced To Hard Labor For Life



A Canadian pastor who had been sentenced to hard labor for life in North Korea was released on humanitarian grounds on Wednesday, the North’s official media said.

The Rev. Lim Hyeon-soo, a South Korea-born pastor of the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto, received his penalty in December 2015, when North Korea’s Supreme Court convicted him of carrying out “subversive plots” and committing “activities against” the country, like harming the dignity of the supreme leadership of Kim Jong-un.

Mr. Lim was released on Wednesday, when the same court decided to free him on sick bail, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said. The agency’s one-sentence dispatch gave no further detail.

The release of Mr. Lim came two months after an American college student, Otto F. Warmbier, died shortly after he was freed from North Korea while in a coma. Mr. Warmbier, 22, was serving a sentence of 15 years of hard labor for trying to steal a political poster from a Pyongyang hotel.

His death angered many Americans and eventually convinced the State Department to ban Americans from visiting North Korea.

Mr. Lim, who had visited North Korea more than 100 times on what his church called humanitarian missions, lost contact with his congregation after entering the country in early 2015. A tearful Mr. Lim later appeared in a government-arranged news conference in Pyongyang and confessed to plotting to overthrow the North Korean leadership by undermining the “worship” of Kim Jong-un.

His church had supported a nursing home, a nursery and an orphanage in North Korea since it began a mission there in 1996, when the country was in the grip of a famine that killed thousands of people.

Mr. Lim said during his news conference that the bags of food he had donated across North Korea had carried the sign of the cross and phrases from the Bible. North Korean prosecutors also accused him of helping “lure and abduct” North Korean citizens, calling them defectors.

North Korea, which zealously tries to shield its citizens from outside influences, has detained several foreign missionaries in recent years, calling them spies or agents of subversive ideas.

Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American missionary sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for trying to establish a secret proselytizing network, was freed in 2014, after the United States government sent its director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., to North Korea.

During his detention or trial, Mr. Lim’s family members were not allowed to visit him, and appealed repeatedly to North Korea to free him.
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