Hyeon Soo Lim's life sentence in North Korea leaves open hope for release

If the experiences of other westerners are any guide, today's sentencing of Canadian Pastor Hyeon Soo Lim to life in prison in North Korea leaves open the hope that he may yet win release.

Other westerners sentenced harshly under dictatorship have served much less than original sentences

Hyeon Soo Lim, centre, pastor at the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto, was sentenced in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday to life in prison for so-called crimes against the state. (Jon Chol Jin/Associated Press)

If the experiences of other westerners are any guide, the sentencing today of Canadian Pastor Hyeon Soo Lim to life in prison in North Korea leaves open the hope that he may yet win release.

Amnesty International has said North Korea has "the world's longest running and largest complex of political prison camps (estimated population 100,000-130,000) in which detainees face systematic and sustained violations of their human rights."

Torture and other kinds of ill treatment "appear to be widespread," Amnesty says

But westerners detained in the country, while sometimes exposed to the prison system, have generally had a shorter ride than, say, North Korean and many Chinese prisoners. Some have even spent part of their sentence under arrest in hotels.

Here's a rundown of some of the recent cases, with the length of each person's detention from arrest to release:

Kenneth Bae: 2 years

Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae was released in November 2014. (Wong Maye-E/Associated Press)

Korean-American missionary Bae, 47, was detained in the North Korean city of Rajin in November 2012 while leading a tour group there.

He was accused of trying to overthrow the government of then leader Kim Jong-il and put on trial. In April 2013, Bae was given a 15-year sentence.

He was freed Nov. 8, 2014, along with one other American detainee after a secret mission to the reclusive communist country by James Clapper, a top U.S. intelligence official. He is reportedly planning a book about his two-year ordeal in detention.

Matthew Todd Miller: 6 months

U.S. citizen Matthew Todd Miller was released Nov. 8, 2014. (APTN/Associated Press)

The U.S. citizen was given a show trial in Pyongyang, North Korea, after he reportedly tore up his tourist visa and demanded asylum on April 10, 2014, following his entry to North Korea. He was convicted of spying and sentenced to six years of hard labour.

In November 2014, he was released with Bae after a secret U.S. intervention.

John Short: less than 1 month

Australian John Short was released in March 2014. (ABC)

Australian missionary Short, in his mid-70s, was arrested in February 2014 and accused of distributing Christian pamphlets.

The Hong Kong-based missionary was released less than a month later and deported.

North Korea's state news agency, KCNA, said Short had confessed to distributing religious tracts, apologized and admitted violating North Korean laws.

His exit appeared to have been assisted by the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, which is sometimes involved in assisting westerners because it is one of the few countries with a mission in North Korea.

Jeffrey E. Fowle: less than 6 months

Jeffrey Fowle, an Ohio municipal worker and Baptist Church member, was released on Oct. 22, 2014. (Skip Peterson/Associated Press)

Fowle, an Ohio municipal worker and Baptist Church member, was held for almost six months awaiting trial for "an anti-state crime," intentionally leaving a Bible behind in a public washroom.

He spent a month in a hotel and the next five months in a detention centre.

Arrested in May 2014,  Fowle was released Oct. 21 that year by leader Kim Jong-un after a request from U.S. President Barack Obama, the New York times reported.

The U.S. credited Sweden with helping secure Fowle's release.

Hyeon Soo Lim: new prisoner

Hyeon Soo Lim, a Toronto pastor, was arrested in February 2015 and sentenced Wednesday to life in prison. (APTN/Associated Press)

Arrested in February, the Canadian pastor was accused of crimes against the state, such as harming the dignity of the supreme leadership and trying to use religion to destroy the North Korean system.

The clergyman, reported to be in his early 60s, is with the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto.

After a 90-minute trial on Wednesday, Lim was sentenced to life in prison.

The Canadian government issued a statement saying it was "dismayed at the unduly harsh sentence."


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