Hyeon Soo Lim, the Canadian pastor serving a life sentence in North Korea for subversion, discussed the horrific nature of the country's prisons and revealed that he is forced to spend eight hours a day digging holes at an isolated labor camp.
As reported by the Gospel Herald, 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.
"I wasn't originally a laborer, so the labour was hard at first," Lim said in Korean through an interpreter. "But now I've gotten used to it."
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 the interview aired on Monday. "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.
Asked if his biggest crime was speaking badly of the North's leaders, he said: "Yes, I think so."
Lim, who was interviewed at a Pyongyang hotel, his hair cropped short and wearing a grey padded prison uniform bearing the number "036" on his chest, also revealed that he asked the authorities for a copy of the Bible, but has yet to receive one.
"Nothing much, just a Bible. I have requested one, but it has not arrived yet," he said when asked if he needs anything. "I also really need letters from my family. I have received letters twice from my family."
Despite his bleak circumstances, the pastor 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."
The report notes that when asked what he would like to tell his family, the pastor teared up: "I have realized so keenly how valuable my family is, how precious it is to me," he said. "Family is a precious gift from God. I would like to tell my family I love them so much."
Meanwhile, Lim's church have said they are holding out hope that, like Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae, who was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor but released less than two years later, the pastor will soon be granted his freedom.
"We hope that he knows that there is a global community who is praying for him and also working hard to secure his release," said church spokeswoman Lisa Pak."We hope that he remembers his family and congregation and how much they love him."
The AP notes that a U.S. State Department official declined to comment on the report, saying that speaking publicly about specific cases of detained Americans can complicate efforts to get them released.