Metro Morning

Mississauga church wants Canada to negotiate Hyeon Soo Lim's release

Since the 1990's, Mississauga minister Hyeon Soo Lim has made dozens of humanitarian missions to North Korea. But his latest one might have been his last.

Imprisoned pastor somewhere in North Korea

Hyeon Soo Lim, center, who pastors the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto, is escorted to his sentencing in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015. North Korea's Supreme Court sentenced a Canadian pastor to life in prison with hard labor on Wednesday for what it called crimes against the state. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)

Since the 1990's, Mississauga minister Hyeon Soo Lim has made dozens of humanitarian missions to North Korea.

But his latest one might have been his last.

This past winter, he was arrested and detained by authorities. Then later, he confessed publicly to plotting to overthrow the state. Charges against him included "trying to use religion to destroy the North Korean system."

On Tuesday, a judge called Reverend Lim an unforgivable criminal, and handed him a life sentence in prison with hard labour for crimes against the state, 

Pastor Lisa Pak is a lifelong friend of the Reverend Lim, who is head pastor at the Light Korean Presbyterian Church. She's acting as a spokesperson for the family and church.

The church started its work in North Korean at the started of the 1990s, when famine struck the country. They were delivering basic goods like rice, noodles, diapers, eyeglasses and other supplies since.

Pak said Lim was following up on an orphanage and nursing home the church started but turned over to local groups. She said he was making sure they had enough food and clothing for the winter.

That was in March.

When the reverend didn't show up for a meeting with contact in Pyongyang, the church suspected he had been detained.

This month, they found out the charges. The trial lasted 90 minutes, Pak said, with Lim getting a court-appointed lawyer. He had confessed to trying to undermine the state.

"We believe that had been coerced, which often happens," said Pak.

The church does not know his whereabouts right now.

"There are rumours are that he's in a hotel or basement," Pak said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he has "tremendous concern" about the case. Trudeau also said problems with North Korea's judicial system are "well known."

Canada has no diplomatic presence in North Korea but Pak says the fact the new prime minister is commenting on the case has raised hopes among Lim's congregation. 

"It's strange to say but the sentence may be a good thing. We're hoping the Trudeau government will take this as a opportunity to try to secure his release."

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