After two and a half years in prison, Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim has been set free by North Korea. The brutal regime cited “humanitarian” concerns over Lim’s health as the reason for ending his life sentence of hard labor early. His release was described as “sick bail.”
CNN notes that Lim’s family “stepped up calls for his release since the death of University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier in June.” He has complained of stomach pains and high blood pressure in his letters home from prison and was permitted to receive shipments of blood pressure medication sent through the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang.
Lim, who is described by the Associated Press as “a South Korean-born Canadian citizen in his 60s,” was imprisoned in 2015 on charges of “trying to use religion to destroy the North Korean system and helping U.S. and South Korean authorities lure and abduct North Korean citizens.” He was working on a humanitarian mission for the Korean Presbyterian Church of Toronto at the time. The Canadian government has always denied the charges filed against him.
The UK Guardian describes Lim as “one of the most influential Christian missionaries operating in North Korea” before his arrest and suggests he may have been targeted because he became involved in projects linked to the late Jang Song-thaek. Jang was the reform-minded uncle of dictator Kim Jong-un who suddenly fell out of favor and was infamously executed with an anti-aircraft gun in 2013.
In an interview with CNN last year, Lim confirmed that he was indeed shipped off to a labor camp to serve out his life sentence with eight hours a day of digging holes to plant apple trees. He was evidently the only inmate at the prison camp in question.
“Would you say your biggest crime was speaking badly about the supreme leaders of this country?” CNN asked him, which seems like a very oddly-worded question for a completely independent Western media outlet to ask a prisoner of the Kim regime. Lim’s response was, “Yes, I think so.”
A spokeswoman for the Lim family thanked the global community for its prayers and support. “We also ask that the world does not forget the people of North Korea,” she added.