Pastor Hyeon Soo Lim, a Canadian citizen with a church in Toronto who was born in South Korea, has been sentenced to life in prison with hard labor by the North Korean regime.
Haaretz reviews Chinese and North Korean media sources to put together the story of Lim’s conviction, which ostensibly involved attempting to overthrow the North Korean government with illicit “religious activities.”
More to the point, he was accused of working with the U.S. and South Korean governments to help North Koreans defect. North Korea’s high court also convicted him of creating “anti-North Korean propaganda as part of a U.S. and South Korean-led ‘human rights racket.'”
North Korean media claimed that Lim admitted to “not only viciously defaming the highest dignity of Korea and its system but also possessing the wicked intention of trying to topple the Republic by staging an anti-state conspiracy” during the trial which, according to the Associated Press, lasted all of 90 minutes.
In a classic bit of totalitarian theater, the prosecution wanted the death penalty, but the defense argued it was better to leave Lim alive so he could “witness for himself the reality of the nation of the Sun as it grows in power and prosperity.”
A propaganda video posted by the North Korean government had Lim confessing, “The worst crime I committed was to rashly defame and insult the highest dignity and the system of the republic.” The UK Guardian notes that other foreigners arrested by North Korea have spoken of forced confessions and coerced statements.
Lim, who is 60 years old, is described by his Light Korean Presbyterian Church as having “a very serious health problem, very high blood pressure, he’s on a prescription, and his family is anxious to send medicine.”
The church said he has visited North Korea a hundred times over the past 20 years for humanitarian purposes, including helping to set up a nursing home, nursery, and orphanage, not political activism. He has been detained by the North Korean government since February.
One spot of hope for Lim is that a Korean-American missionary, given a draconian sentence for similar “offenses,” Kenneth Bae, was released after serving only two years of a 15-year sentence. Bae suffered medical issues while in detention and is also thought to have benefited from what the AP describes as a “secret mission” to North Korea by U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Another man released at the same time as Bae was in prison for merely leaving a copy of a Bible at a North Korean nightclub.
Another imprisoned missionary, Australian John Short, was also sentenced to 15 years for spreading Christianity last year but was released and deported after apologizing and begging forgiveness. Short, who is 75 years old, reported being subjected to grueling interrogations for four hours per day while in detention.