North Korea's Supreme Court handed a Canadian pastor a sentence of life in prison with hard labor for what it called crimes against the state.
Hyeon Soo Lim, a pastor at the 3,000-member Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Mississauga, Ontario, was detained in February while visiting North Korea on a humanitarian mission. He's been the country over 100 times since 1997, helping maintain the nursing home and orphanage he helped to establish, according to his church.
Lim was supposed to be back on February 4, but he was arrested in Pyongyang and charged with numerous crimes, including harming the dignity of the supreme leadership, trying to use religion to destroy the North Korean system, disseminating negative propaganda about the North to Koreans overseas, helping American and South Korean authorities to lure and abduct North Korean citizens, and aiding their programs to assist defectors from the North.
State prosecutors had sought the death penalty, but Lim's lawyer asked the court to consider that he confessed to all charges and that he was a fellow Korean, the Associated Press reported.
Global Affairs Canada spokesperson François Lasalle said in an emailed statement to VICE News that officials tried multiple times to meet with Lim in custody, and that they're continuing to "request consular access and work towards a resolution of his case."
She called the sentence "unduly harsh," given his age and "fragile health." Lim, who has lived in Canada since 1986 and is a citizen, is in his early 60s.
"The trial is our first opportunity to see him," she wrote. "This is a serious violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the right of states to have consular access to their citizens."
In July, Lim appeared to confess to all his crimes at a press conference in Pyongyang, church spokeswoman Lisa Pak had told the CBC. However, it's been said by others who have been detained for religious activities — which are banned in North Korea — and subsequently released, that their public confessions and statements of guilt were made under duress.
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