WASHINGTON – North Korea released on humanitarian grounds a Canadian missionary who was serving a life sentence for “trying to overthrow the regime,” Pyongyang said on Wednesday.
Hyeon Soo Lim, 62, disappeared in North Korea in February 2015 and in December of that year was sentenced for “subversive acts against Pyongyang.” Canadian authorities strongly denied the charges. North Korean officials also said the pastor allegedly confessed to helping people escape from the country.
Lim, also known as Rim Hyon Su, was freed Wednesday after a Canadian delegation was sent to Pyongyang to discuss the his case. Canadian officials were apparently concerned about reports that the South Korean-born pastor had suffered a dramatic weight loss. In letters to his family, he complained of stomach pains and high blood pressure.
“Rim Hyon Su, a Canadian civilian, was released on sick bail according to the decision of the Central Court of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on August 9, 2017, from the humanitarian viewpoint,” North Korea’s official KCNA news agency said Wednesday.
A Canadian government spokesman had confirmed on Tuesday that a delegation led by National Security Advisor Daniel Jean was in Pyongyang to discuss Lim’s case. The spokesperson for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Lim’s health and well-being “remain of utmost importance to the government of Canada.”
Lim’s family told local media they became very worried about his welfare since American college student Otto Warmbier died in June just days after being released from a North Korean prison.
When Lim was arrested, Korean missionaries in Canada and the United States said he was one of the most influential Christian missionaries in North Korea.
Lim told CNN last year that he dug holes eight hours a day, six days a week in a labor camp.
Family spokesperson Lisa Pak said there was “a long way to go in terms of Reverend Lim’s healing.” She thanked people for their prayers and support and asked that the world “not forget the people of North Korea.”
At least three Americans and six South Koreans remain in custody in North Korea.
Lim’s release coincides with a dramatic rise in tensions with North Korea as volatile leader Kim Jong-Un said he is considering plans to make “an enveloping fire” around the U.S. territory of Guam, which is home to a large American military base and about 163,000 people. Kim’s threats follow those of President Donald Trump, who on Wednesday warned the North Korean leader that his country faces “fire and fury like the world has never seen” unless he ceases his threats against the U.S.