Wednesday, May 20, 2015

South Korean-born Canadian Presbyterian pastor has been detained in North Korea

Rev. Hyeon Soo Lim, pastor of Light Presbyterian Church in Mississauga, Ontario, has made about 110 missionary visits to North Korea over the years, but has been detained in that country since early in 2015. His activities in North Korea included involvement in private business and have led to some controversy and possible diplomatic difficulties. It's not for me to say whether Rev. Lim's actions have been prudent or not, but let's pray for his release, and that the Lord will be glorified through whatever circumstances Rev. Lim is in.

See Unravelling the mystery behind the detention of reverend Lim by Nathan Vanderklippe in the Toronto newspaper The Globe and Mail, May 19, 2015.

July 31, 2015 update: As reported by Canadian Press, July 31, 2015:

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — A South Korean news agency is reporting that an Ontario pastor detained in North Korea has confessed to “subversive plots” against the Communist state during a televised news conference.

Yonhap says Rev. Hyeon Soo Lim of the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Mississauga, Ont., is quoted by the Korean Central News Agency as saying he was “a servant of the U.S. imperialists and South Korean puppet group.”

A church spokeswoman says Lim was on a humanitarian mission to North Korea when he was detained in early February.

Lisa Pak says the 60-year-old Christian missionary left Canada on Jan. 27 with stops in South Korea and China before crossing into North Korea on Jan. 31.

She says Lim’s family remains hopeful he will be released at some point, but didn’t want to comment on the reports of his alleged confessions.

A Foreign Affairs spokeswoman says the government is “deeply concerned” and continues to try to arrange consular access and find a resolution to his case.

Assistance is difficult, however, because Canada has no diplomatic office in the Communist nation.

At Thursday’s news conference, Lim reportedly said that he travelled to several parts of the country pretending to deliver aid, but his real purpose was “to build a base to overthrow the system of the country and create a religious state.”

He then went on to apologize for his “indescribable treason.”

Pak says the pastor has a deep love for the North Korean people, which is the reason he has visited the country more than 100 times.

Lim’s family has previously said that much of his work has focused on the impoverished country’s northeastern region of Rason. Pak said he has also helped out schools, an orphanage and a nursing home.

Lim started the church 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, she said.
As reported by Associated Press, July 30, 2015:

PYONGYANG – Authorities in Pyongyang on Thursday organised the first appearance of a Canadian man detained in North Korea since early this year.

Reverend Hyeon Soo Lim appeared at the People’s Palace of Culture, a venue where North Korean authorities have arranged similar events in the past.

“The most serious crimes I have committed are that I severely slandered and impaired the supreme dignity and system of this country and perpetrated a scheme to overthrow the state,” Lim told a packed room.

He had travelled to North Korea on 31 January and was scheduled to leave on 4 February.

Lim is a pastor at the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto.

“In order to create the impression that it is God, and not the Worker’s Party and this country’s government which give things to eat and provide means to live, we intentionally drew the cross and wrote the name of the church and bible phrases on the sacks of provisions that were donated to several parts of the country such as Chongjin and Jagang Province,” he continued. “The purpose that I travelled about several parts of the country on the pretext of “aid” was to build a base to overthrow the system of the country and create a religious state, taking advantage of the policies of the US and South Korean authorities.”

“The basic purpose that I was so active in the (provision of) aid to this country in the past was to remove loyalty in the hearts of the North Korean people to their authorities. I deeply, deeply apologise from my heart, for my indescribable treason.”
December 16, 2015 update: As reported by Associated Press, December 15, 2015:

PYONGYANG--North Korea’s Supreme Court sentenced a Canadian pastor to life in prison with hard labour on Wednesday for what it called crimes against the state.

Hyeon Soo Lim, who pastors the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto, was given the sentence after a 90-minute trial. He had been in detention since February.

Lim entered and left the court in handcuffs flanked by two public security officers in uniform. The handcuffs were removed in court during the trial. He kept his head bowed most of the time and answered questions in a subdued tone.

The crimes he was charged with included harming the dignity of the supreme leadership, trying to use religion to destroy the North Korean system, disseminating negative propaganda about the North to the overseas Koreans, and helping U.S. and the South Korean authorities lure and abduct North Korean citizens, along with aiding their programs to assist defectors from the North.

State prosecutors sought the death penalty.

Lim’s lawyer asked the court to take into account the fact that Lim is a fellow Korean and that he had frankly confessed to everything the prosecution had brought up. Lim pleaded to be given a chance and said if the court gave him a chance he would not do anything bad again.

Lim had earlier appeared at a news conference organized by North Korean authorities in Pyongyang in July and admitted to plotting to overthrow the North Korean state, but other foreigners detained in North Korea and then released have said they were coerced into making similar statements and confessing guilt during their detention.

Lim’s relatives and colleagues have said he travelled on Jan. 31 as part of a regular humanitarian mission to North Korea 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 were about helping people and were not political.

A spokeswoman for the Canadian Global Affairs Department had no immediate information about his trial and 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 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, the North 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 2-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.
December 28, 2015 update: As reported by Christina Commisso of CTV News, December 16, 2015:

Canadian officials say they're "dismayed" by the life sentence handed down to an Ontario pastor who was found guilty by a North Korean court of crimes against the state.

Rev. Hyeon Soo Lim, who pastors the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto, was given the sentence after a 90-minute trial before the country's Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday that Canadian officials will continue to pressure North Korea to allow a meeting with Lim.

"We need to be able to meet with, and ensure that, Canadians are being properly treated everywhere around the world, including North Korea," Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa.

He added that the government is "very concerned" about the life sentence handed to Lim.

Earlier in the day, the acting director of Global Affairs Canada called Lim's sentence "unduly harsh."

"Canada is dismayed at the unduly harsh sentence given to Mr. Lim by a North Korean court, particularly given his age and fragile health," Francois Lasalle said in a statement to CTV News on Wednesday.

Top Conservatives also called the sentence “harsh.”

Conservative Party interim leader [Rona Ambrose] said the arrest was “an affront to Canadians’ belief in religious freedom.”

“We condemn it absolutely, and the government has our full support for any action it might take to secure his release and return to his family and congregation here in Canada,” Ambrose added.

Foreign Affairs Critic Tony Clement called it “a reflection of a cruel and unjust dictatorship that inflicts horrendous human rights abuses upon its own people, and threatens the world with its reckless nuclear ambitions...”

..."Despite repeated requests, Canadian officials have not been able to meet with him to verify his health and well-being," Lasalle said.

Officials said the first opportunity they had to see Lim since his arrest was during his trial. LaSalle said North Korea violated the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which safeguards the right of states have consular access to their citizens.

"Like Mr. Lim's family and friends, the Government of Canada remains concerned for his rights and well-being and wishes to see him return to Canada,” Lasalle said.
As reported by Ryan Maloney of Canadian Press, December 22, 2015:

North Korea says Canada and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are "recklessly spouting rubbish" by protesting the sentencing of a Canadian pastor to life in prison with hard labour for what Pyongyang calls crimes against the state.

A statement shared by North Korea's mission to the United Nations on Tuesday says Canada's government is "obliged to make an apology" for the crimes it says Hyeon Soo Lim committed.

Lim was sentenced last week after being accused of trying to use religion to destroy the North Korean system.

Trudeau's comments followed.

Lim's relatives have said the pastor, who is in his 60s, travelled in January on a regular humanitarian mission to North Korea.

A spokeswoman for Canada's Global Affairs Department has said Canada is "dismayed at the unduly harsh sentence."

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