Canadian officials in North Korea in effort to free prisoner

Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim was sentenced in December 2015 by a North Korean court to life in prison at hard labour

In this file image made from July 30, 2015, video, Canadian Hyeon Soo Lim speaks in Pyongyang, North Korea. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP

A delegation from the Canadian government is in Pyongyang, North Korea, to discuss the case of imprisoned Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim, the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed Tuesday.

Lim, a pastor with the Light Korean Presbyterian Church of Mississauga, Ont., was sentenced in December 2015 by a North Korean court to life in prison at hard labour for what it called crimes against the state.

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Lim was charged with included harming the dignity of the supreme leadership, trying to use religion to destroy the North Korean system, disseminating negative propaganda about the North to overseas Koreans and helping American and South Korean authorities lure and abduct North Korean citizens, along with aiding their programs to assist defectors from the North.

The Canadian delegation — which is led by Daniel Jean, the national security adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — is in the North Korean capital as tensions continue to rise between the United States and the isolated nation, which announced Tuesday it developed the ability to fit a small nuclear warhead on top of a long-range missile.

The last time a Canadian delegation was sent to Pyongyang to discuss the release of the 62-year-old pastor was in late 2016.

“Pastor Lim’s health and well-being remain of utmost importance to the government of Canada as we continue to engage on this case,” Cameron Ahmad, a spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office, said in an email.

“As this is an active case, we will not provide further comment at this time.”

Canada does not have an embassy in North Korea, and has advised against all travel there.

Lim’s relatives and colleagues have said he travelled to North Korea on Jan. 31, 2015, as part of a regular humanitarian mission to the country where he supports a nursing home, a nursery and an orphanage. They said Lim has made more than 100 trips to North Korea since 1997 and that his trips were about helping people and were not political. They also have said he needs medication to manage his blood pressure.

Lim, who has a wife and son living in the Toronto area, started the Light Korean Presbyterian Church nearly three decades ago, shortly after he emigrated from South Korea.

He grew the congregation from about a dozen people in 1986 to more than 3,000 members. He also runs a smaller church in downtown Toronto that caters to young people.

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