North Korea gives life sentence to Canadian pastor

A Korean Canadian pastor detained in North Korea was sentenced to a life of hard labour on Wednesday December 16, 2015. The pastor faced numerous charges, including attempting to overthrow the government, according to the Associated Press in North Korea. Lim Hyeun-Soo may never be released, at least not in the near future, says an Open Doors field worker with years of North Korean ministry experience.

Reverend Lim belongs to the Light Presbyterian Church in Toronto, and had visited North Korea over a hundred times to distribute humanitarian aid for nursing homes, daycare centres and orphanages. His church lost contact with him in January. At first it was expected he had to go through an extended quarantine period, after the North Korean government established one to prevent the spread of ebola. Later, it was revealed that Lim had been arrested and charged with slandering the North Korean leadership and system to overthrow the country and establish a religious state in North Korea. He was forced to read out a public confession during a press conference in July.

Usually the North pronounces a sentence within weeks after such a confession. This time it took five months. “Most likely, diplomatic efforts to secure Lim’s release failed,” says the Open Doors field worker, whose name cannot be revealed for his own security. “North Korea had probably hoped to get ‘more’ out of the negotiations. Whatever that ‘more’ is, we don’t know. Pastors like Lim, who have seen so much of how North Korea treats its prisoners, cannot easily be released. Unless Canada makes an offer North Korea can’t refuse, I don’t see Lim returning home anytime soon.”

Pastor Lim was involved in humanitarian aid and not associated with the underground church, which is not directly affected by the arrest and sentence of Pastor Lim. “But a case like this does outrage the North Korean government,” says the Open Doors field worker. “North Korean believers could be dealt with even more harshly if they are exposed.”

Another consequence of the Lim case is that North Korea applies a more strict visa policy, and NGOs–especially from the US and Canada–are also much less eager to continue or start up work in the nation ruled by Kim Jong-Un.

Despite these tragic arrests, the North Korean government has not won the war against Christianity. The church has survived almost 70 years of severe persecution. Between 200,000 and 400,000 Christians still secretly profess their faith. Without doubt many are paying a heavy price.

One such Christian is Pastor Kim. “He must live under an enormous amount of guilt,” says one South Korean missionary. “He made the mistake to trust the wrong people, he was arrested and dozens others also. People were killed, families put into concentration camps. His case reminds me of Rev. Ahn Song-Woon. He was also lured into a trap and arrested. He received a prison sentence, disappeared from the radar for a while and then suddenly came back to the surface as the assistant pastor of one of North Korea’s showcase churches. He did that for a couple of years and then committed suicide. I am afraid that his may become the exact same fate of Missionary Kim. They will never let him go. He knows too much about North Korea’s National Security Agency.”

*All quoted sources have requested anonymity for personal safety reasons.