A Canadian pastor serving a life sentence in North Korea says he spends eight hours a day, six days a week, toiling in a labour camp, with no contact with the outside world.
Hyeon Soo Lim — a pastor with the Light Korean Presbyterian Church west of Toronto — described his living conditions in an interview with CNN.
The pastor says it took him time to adjust to the work but he now tells himself the exercise is good for his health.
Lim, who is in his 60s, says he is desperate to hear from his family and has only been able to send them one letter so far.
He also says he has requested a Bible from North Korean authorities.
Lim was sentenced in December to life in prison with hard labour by North Korea’s Supreme Court for what it called crimes against the state.
The crimes 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 U.S. and the South Korean authorities lure and abduct North Korean citizens, along with aiding their programs to assist defectors from the North.
He says his experience has not shaken his faith, and he continues to pray.
“I hope I can go home some day,” he tells CNN. “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.”
Lim’s relatives and colleagues have said he travelled to North Korea on Jan. 31, 2014, 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.
North Korea has very strict rules against any missionary or religious activities that it sees as threatening the supremacy of its ruling regime. Merely leaving a Bible in a public place can lead to arrest and possibly severe punishment.
Global Affairs Canada did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday but has previously expressed dismay at what it called “the unduly harsh sentence” given to Lim.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted in December that Canadian consular officials had not been allowed to see Lim since his detention began last February, aside from the brief trial during which he was sentenced.
Both the Canadian and U.S. governments warn against travel to North Korea.