Pastor Lim Hyeon-soo is One of Many Foreign Nationals in Recent Years to be Imprisoned in North Korea
12/16/2015 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that Lim Hyeon-soo, a Korean-Canadian pastor from the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto, Canada was sentenced to life imprisonment by the North Korean Supreme Court on Wednesday, December 17. Both lawyers and family were barred from attending the 90-mintue proceedings that will see Lim sent to a labor camp to serve out his life sentence.
Lim went missing in late January 2015 while taking part in a humanitarian mission that included supporting a nursing home, orphanage, and a nursery, according to a spokeswoman from the Light Korean Presbyterian Church. In July, Lim resurfaced when he publicly confessed to crimes of harming the dignity of the supreme leadership, trying to use religion to destroy the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, disseminating negative propaganda to Koreans overseas, and helping North Korean defectors to escape to the United States and South Korea.
Lim has visited North Korea on humanitarian missions since 1997, accumulating over 100 visits to the hermit kingdom. According to past prisoners in North Korea, it is common for the regime to coerce the individual into publicly admitting to what are typically false accusations.
Recently elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been requested by members of the Light Korean Presbyterian Church to raise Lim’s case as he embarks on his first global trip as Prime Minister. Church spokeswoman Lisa Pak told Reuters in an e-mail, “We are hoping that the Trudeau government takes full advantage of whatever means and platform available – (for example) at APEC – to bring international awareness to Mr. Lim’s detainment that would help move diplomatic talks to a speedy and positive resolution.” With the recent conviction, it will likely be a difficult process for human rights organizations and the Canadian government to make progress on Lim’s behalf.
In 2012, Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae was sentenced to 15 years hard labor for his actions in North Korea, but was released after admitting to crimes against the state in 2014. In that same year, an American tourist was arrested in May and was later released after he confessed to the crime of leaving a Bible at a bar in the hopes of spreading the Gospel. Unfortunately, not all confessions have resulted in freedom.
Religious freedom in North Korea is virtually nonexistent. According to Open Doors, an NGO that monitors Christian persecution, North Korea is ranked as the worst country in the world for the persecution of Christians. Anyone affiliated with any religion not regulated by the state is sent to “re-education” camps. These camps hold hundreds of thousands of political and religious prisoners that the state has deemed dangerous for nefarious reasons.
ICC’s Advocacy Director, Isaac Six, stated, “We at International Christian Concern are distressed once again at Democratic People’s Republic of Korea for their deplorable treatment of Pastor Lim Hyeon-soo. No one should ever face imprisonment simply because of their religious beliefs, yet thousands upon thousands of men, women, and children are living in what has been described as hell on earth simply because they choose to be Christian. ICC encourages and supports the calls of the Light Korean Presbyterian Church of Toronto for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to highlight Pastor Lim’s case before the international community. Without international pressure, ICC fears that Pastor Lim could truly be consigned to a life of hard labor for his Christian faith.”