SEOUL, Korea, Republic Of _ North Korea says it has released a Canadian pastor who has been serving a life sentence since 2015 for anti-state activities over health reasons.
Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said on its website Wednesday that Hyeon Soo Lim was released on “sick bail” following a decision by the country’s Central Court.
The news was announced after a delegation from the Canadian government went to Pyongyang to discuss Lim’s case.
Lim, a pastor with the Light Korean Presbyterian Church of Mississauga, Ont., had been sentenced by a North Korean court to life in prison with hard labour for what it called crimes against the state.
Lim 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 overseas Koreans and helping American and South Korean authorities lure and abduct North Korean citizens, along with aiding their programs to assist defectors from the North.
The pastor went to North Korea on Jan. 31, 2015 for a humanitarian mission, one of more than 100 trips to the country since 1997, to support an orphanage, nursery and nursing home, his relatives and colleagues have said.
They were also worried about his health, saying he needs medication to manage his blood pressure.
“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 spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office, told The Canadian Press on Tuesday.
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 Canadian delegation is led by Daniel Jean, the national security adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The last time a Canadian delegation was sent to Pyongyang to discuss the release of the 62-year-old pastor was in late 2016.
Canada does not have an embassy in North Korea, and has advised against all travel there.
With files from The Associated Press