A Canadian pastor serving a life sentence in North Korea was freed on “humanitarian” grounds because of his health, the country’s state-run news agency said.
Hyeon Soo Lim was convicted and sentenced to hard labor for life in December 2015 after North Korea accused him of trying to overthrow the regime. He was first arrested in February 2015, but details about the 62-year-old’s condition were not provided by the Korean Central News Agency, which said he was released on “sick bail.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed the release Thursday and said he was “pleased and relieved” the pastor “will soon be reunited with his family and friends in Canada.”
“Pastor Lim’s health and well-being remain of utmost importance to the Government of Canada, and we are working to ensure that he receives any required medical attention,” he added.
The family said in a statement that they were “relieved” and “grateful” he is being allowed to return to Canada. Details of when the pastor would return home were not provided.
The sudden release of Lim, also known as Rim Hyon Su, comes amid flaring tensions between North Korea and the United States. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump told the isolated nation that any threat to America would be met with “fire and fury.” Hours later, the North responded by saying it was “seriously reviewing” a plan to strike the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.
Lim is affiliated with the Toronto-area Light Korean Presbyterian Church, one of the largest churches in Canada. Members have said he visited North Korea regularly since 1997 — when the country was gripped by extreme famine — to organize orphanages and nursing homes.
But Pyongyang charged that he used religion to undermine the government and sought to help North Korean citizens leave the country. In other cases of foreign missionaries being detained, the totalitarian government has accused them of anti-state crimes under the guise of offering humanitarian aid.
At his 2015 sentencing, Lim told the court: “I deeply, deeply apologize from my heart for my indescribable treason.”
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SOURCE: NBC News, Erik Ortiz