Canadian Citizenship Saved Pastor Hyeon Soo Lim in North Korea

22 Mar 2023

Regime Prosecutors Were Initially Seeking The Death Penalty

As per the CBC, Toronto Pastor Hyeon Soo Lim thinks his Canadian citizenship was the primary reason he wasn’t executed or tortured during more than two years of imprisonment in North Korea. Pastor Lim was born in South Korea and ran various humanitarian projects in the DPRK for nearly 20 years. He emigrated to Canada in 1986 and has visited North Korea, where he helped to establish an orphanage and a nursing home, more than 100 times since the late nineties. He was arrested in January 2015 on a humanitarian mission and sentenced at the end of 2015 to life imprisonment and hard labour for allegedly trying to overthrow the regime using religious activity, something North Korea can and often does consider an anti-state conspiracy. In July of 2015, Mr Lim appeared at a news conference in North Korea and confessed that he had travelled there on the pretext of humanitarian work and gathered information that he used in sermons outside the country to drive the regime to a collapse. The state news coverage of his apparent criminal transgression against was nothing short of ridiculous.

Religious practice and evangelical activities are banned in North Korea and even though he was warned by the Canadian government not to travel to the hermit kingdom, he didn’t think anything would happen. Lim said he has “never preached in North Korea,” but admitted his very presence in the hermit kingdom may have been enough to upset the Kim Jong-un regime. The pastor said he was never harmed during his 900-plus days he spent in North Korean custody. He said they treated him well despite being forced to dig holes and break coal by hand all day in a labour camp – something he attributes to his Canadian citizenship.

“If I’m just Korean, maybe they kill me,” Lim said during an interview with CBC’s Rosemary Barton. “I’m Canadian so they cannot, because they cannot kill the foreigners.”

Lim believes that a primary element that contributed to his release after more than 2 years in prison was the death of Ottawa Warmbier. On Aug. 9, North Korea released Lim on “sick bail” granted on humanitarian grounds (he suffers from high blood pressure and there were articulated health concerns from his congregation when he was detained), one day after a six-member Canadian delegation led by Daniel Jean, the prime minister’s national security and intelligence adviser, travelled to Pyongyang.