PASTOR RE­LEASED:

Cana­dian del­e­ga­tion se­cures re­lease of Mis­sis­sauga pastor im­pris­oned in North Korea since 2015.

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - BREN­NAN DO­HERTY AND MICHELLE MCQUIGGE

TORONTO — A Mis­sis­sauga church con­gre­ga­tion is cel­e­brat­ing news of the re­lease of their pastor from a North Korean prison more than two years af­ter he was ar­rested in the coun­try.

A de­ci­sion from North Korea’s cen­tral court freed Hyeon Soo Lim from the prison where he was serv­ing a life sen­tence for anti-state ac­tiv­i­ties, the coun­try’s Korean Cen­tral News Agency re­ported Wed­nes­day.

The pastor’s re­lease, which came on the heels of an of­fi­cial visit from a Cana­dian gov­ern­ment del­e­ga­tion, was de­scribed as “sick bail” by the news agency. No other de­tails were pro­vided.

Lim, a pastor with the Light Korean Pres­by­te­rian Church in Mis­sis­sauga, had been sen­tenced by a North Korean court to life in prison with hard labour for what it called crimes against the state. Charges against him 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 over­seas Kore­ans, and help­ing U.S. and South Korean ef­forts to help peo­ple de­fect from the north.

Word of Lim’s re­lease drew mem­bers of his con­gre­ga­tion to their church, where they were seen hug­ging and cry­ing Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

Charles Baik, an as­so­ciate pastor with the church’s English min­istry, said mem­bers are ec­static at the prospect of Lim’s re­turn.

“We’re so happy he’s been re­leased,” Baik said out­side the church.

Lim, who has a wife and son liv­ing in the Toronto area, started the Light Korean Pres­by­te­rian Church nearly three decades ago, shortly af­ter he em­i­grated from South Korea. He grew the con­gre­ga­tion from about a dozen peo­ple in 1986 to more than 3,000 mem­bers. He also runs a smaller church in down­town Toronto that caters to young peo­ple. The church has taken on nu­mer­ous hu­man­i­tar­ian projects in North Korea, one of which prompted Lim’s last trip there in Jan­uary 2015.

Fam­ily and friends pre­vi­ously said he was vis­it­ing an or­phan­age, nurs­ery and nurs­ing home at the time of his ar­rest. The pastor had suc­cess­fully trav­elled to North Korea more than 100 times over the past two decades, they added.

Baik said the pastor’s or­deal would not de­ter the church from fu­ture hu­man­i­tar­ian projects in the coun­try.

“Mis­sions will never stop, no mat­ter where they may be,” he said.

Fam­ily mem­bers had urged the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment to put pres­sure on North Korea to se­cure Lim’s re­lease.

Their calls for ac­tion took on fresh ur­gency in June fol­low­ing the death of Otto Warmbier, an Amer­i­can stu­dent who lived only one week af­ter be­ing re­leased from North Korean cus­tody due to health con­cerns.

Lim’s own health was of con­cern to his fam­ily mem­bers, who had said the pastor needed med­i­ca­tion to man­age his blood pres­sure.

A Cana­dian del­e­ga­tion led by Daniel Jean, the na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser to Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, was in the North Korean cap­i­tal of Py­ongyang this week to dis­cuss Lim’s case.

“Pastor Lim’s health and well-be­ing re­main of ut­most im­por­tance to the gov­ern­ment of Canada as we con­tinue to en­gage on this case,” Cameron Ah­mad, a spokesper­son for the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice, told The Cana­dian Press on Tues­day.

Nei­ther Ah­mad nor Global Af­fairs re­sponded to re­quest for com­ment on Lim’s re­lease. Canada does not have an em­bassy in North Korea, and has ad­vised against all travel there.

Cana­dian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim, cen­tre, is es­corted to his sen­tenc­ing in Py­ongyang, North Korea, on Dec. 16, 2015.

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