Canadians officials recently met with Rev. Hyeon Soo Lim, the Canadian pastor serving a life sentence in North Korea for subversion, and discussed his case with local officials, raising hopes he may eventually be released.
The Canadian government delegation, led by Sarah Taylor, director general for North Asia and Oceania for Global Affairs Canada, traveled to North Korea on Tuesday for a three-day visit to discuss the case, Korean Central News Agency said, according to The Associated Press. The agency said the Canadian officials met Lim, but provided no further details
In November, the Swedish ambassador spoke to a North Korean Foreign Ministry official about Pastor Lim, after which the Pyongyang official said the isolated country would deal with the issues of detainees in line with a wartime law without explaining what that law is.
As reported, Lim had been doing humanitarian work in North Korea since 1997 and had visited the isolated country more than 100 times, according to his Toronto church, the 3,000-member Light Korean Presbyterian Church.
North Korea's highest court said Lim, 60, had attempted to overthrow the government and undermine its social system with "religious activities" for the past 18 years, China's official Xinhua news agency reported. At the time of his capture, the pastor had a "very serious health problem, very high blood pressure", his church said.
During a recent interview with CNN, the pastor revealed that he works eight hours a day, six days a week, with rest breaks, digging holes for the planting of apple trees in the prison orchard. Thus far, he has not seen any other prisoners, and is not allowed contact with the outside world.
While charges against Lim had lacked specifics, the pastor said he believes they stemmed from his continued criticism of the North's three generations of leaders.
"I admit I've violated this government's authority, system and order," Lim said in an interview. "I used to think they deified their leaders too much, but as I read the memoirs of both Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, they never called themselves gods," he added.
The pastor also said he asked the authorities for a copy of the Bible, and revealed that he continues to pray for the unification of North and South Korea, and that no one will ever have to suffer through the same experience he has.
"I hope I can go home someday," Lim said. "Nobody knows if I will ever go home, but that is my hope. I miss my family. I am longing to see them again, and my congregation."
In January, more than 125,000 people signed an online petition calling for Lim's release, which urged Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon, Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, and Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs Stephane Dion to work to free Lim.
For the 14th year in a row, North Korea is ranked #1 on Open Door USA's World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most persecution.