North Korea sentences Canadian to life in prison for 'anti-state activities'

PYONGYANG, Korea, Democratic People's Republic Of - A North Korean court has sentenced a Canadian pastor to life in prison for what it called crimes against the state.

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Rev. Hyeon Soo Lim, who pastors the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto, was given the sentence after a brief trial before the country's Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Further details were not immediately available.

Relatives of Lim have said he travelled to North Korea on Jan. 31 as part of a regular humanitarian mission where he supports a nursing home, a nursery and an orphanage.

They said Lim, who is in his early 60s, has made more than 100 trips to North Korea since 1997 and that his trips are about helping people and are not political.

A spokeswoman for the Canadian Global Affairs Department had no immediate information about his sentence.

Lisa Pak, a spokeswoman for the family, has said Lim had no problems on his previous trips to North Korea.

She confirmed in March that Lim had been detained in the country.

One of the projects Lim spearheaded "aims to help the people there live sustainably," she said at the time, adding "they can grow their own food now, so they don't always have to receive aid."

The previous Conservative government had said consular officials were in contact with family members and providing assistance, but that the process was difficult as Canada has no diplomatic presence in North Korea.

Last month, Lim's family issued a statement saying it hoped the new Liberal government would be able to secure his release.

"It is our hope that Prime Minister Trudeau, Foreign Minister Stephane Dion and the newly elected government continues to hold this case in the highest priority, doing what is necessary to secure the safe and speedy return of Reverend Lim to his family and community," the statement said.

The family said it was Lim's compassion for the people of North Korea that motivated him to travel to there in support of many humanitarian aid projects that he had initiated.

Lim started the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Mississauga, Ont., nearly three decades ago, shortly after he immigrated from South Korea. He grew the congregation from about a dozen people in 1986 to more than 3,000 members today, Pak said. He also runs a smaller church in downtown Toronto that caters to young people.

North Korea is just one of many countries where Lim performs humanitarian work, said Pak, who's also a spokeswoman for the church.

The country has very strict rules against any missionary or religious activities that it sees as threatening the supremacy of its ruling regime. Merely leaving a Bible in a public place can lead to arrest and possibly severe punishment.

Both the Canadian and U.S. governments warn against travel to North Korea.

Last year, North Korean officials released Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American missionary who was convicted of "anti-state" crimes and had been serving a 15-year sentence.

Bae, whose detention received worldwide attention, suffered medical issues in detention. He was freed along with one other American detainee after a secret mission to the reclusive communist country by James Clapper, the top U.S. intelligence official. He is reportedly planning a book about his two-year ordeal in detention.

An Australian missionary detained for spreading Christianity was deported last year after he apologized for anti-state religious acts and requested forgiveness.

- With files from The Canadian Press



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