The North Korean government is demanding Canadian officials apologize for “recklessly spouting rubbish” after expressing concern regarding the arrest of Hyeon Soo Lim, a Korean-Canadian pastor sentenced to a life of hard labor for allegedly conspiring to overthrow the Kim Jong-un regime.
“Public officials of Canada, including its premier, have been rashly unleashing malicious slander against our republic about the hard labor for life sentence against him,” adding, “We cannot suppress outrage that the Canadian government dares to pick a quarrel with our fair and just judicial decision speaking of ‘concern’ and ‘violation of international law’ when its citizen has committed a vicious crime against us,” read a statement of condemnation at the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the state’s propaganda arm.
The government of North Korea is demanding an apology from Canada, declaring that “Canada’s unreasonable and disrespectful reaction will only complicate the situation.” The statement, published on KCNA, also noted that North Korea had barred Canadian officials from visiting Hyeon Soo Lim during the process leading up to his 90-minute trial, but now “North Korea has invited the Canadian delegation to attend Lim’s trial and even allowed the consulate to make contact with Lim later.”
The KCNA article even attempted to depict the life sentence for Kim as merciful, claiming “North Koreans … demanded that the North Korean legal system punish Lim more severely.”
The Canadian government responded to the sentencing of one of its citizens with a measured statement expressing “tremendous concern” over Lim’s wellbeing. “We are very concerned about someone being sentenced to life in North Korea and we certainly hope to be able to engage with this individual and stand up for his rights,” leftist Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in response to the news of his conviction. Trudeau also demanded that Canadian officials be given access to citizens imprisoned internationally: “We need to be able to meet with and ensure that Canadians are being properly treated everywhere around the world, including North Korea and we will be continuing to press North Korea authorities.”
Canadian Global Affairs Department spokeswoman Diana Khaddaj issued a notably stern statement against the conviction, the Toronto Star noted, calling the sentence “unduly harsh” and demanding Canada have “consular access” in North Korea to handle such cases.
Lim was arrested and tried for a series of crimes, including “harming the dignity of the supreme leadership, trying to use religion to destroy the North Korean system, disseminating negative propaganda about the North to Koreans overseas, helping American and South Korean authorities to lure and abduct North Korean citizens, and aiding their programs to assist defectors from the North,” according to Vice.
Short as the trial may seem and harsh the punishment, attorneys in the trial allegedly reduced the punishment from a death sentence to life of hard labor in one of North Korea’s notorious prison camps. The defense argued Lim should receive the chance to “witness for himself the reality of the nation of the Sun as it grows in power and prosperity.”
Prior to the trial, the North Korean government forced Lim to appear in a propaganda video confessing to being engaged in a plot to overthrow Kim Jong-un, a tactic former North Korean prisoners have decried as forced confession. Lim’s family have protested his sentence, noting that, as a pastor in the Light Korean Presbyterian Church, he has allegedly made more than 100 humanitarian aid trips to North Korea without incident and that he is suffering extremely high blood pressure and could die if relegated to a labor camp.
North Korea has developed a reputation for persecuting Westerners who enter the country with even the slightest overt religious affiliation. Last year, American citizen Jeffrey Edward Fowle was arrested for violating North Korean law, allegedly after a hotel worker found a Bible Fowle had accidentally left in his hotel room. The presence of the Bible was considered an act of propaganda against communism by the North Korean state.
In a similar, more prominent, case, American Kenneth Bae served two years in a North Korean labor camp after being arrested for managing a travel agency the North Korean government claimed was secretly proselytizing for the Christian faith. Following an extended diplomacy effort and medical test proving Bae’s health was fragile, North Korea released Bae short of serving his allotted 16 years in a labor camp.