Canadian pastor detained in North Korea meets consular officials for the first time

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Four-year-old Abrigail Yoon (R) watches her mother Jung Hwa Shin and others sign a petition addressed to United Nations (UN) urging the release of Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim from North Korea at a joint multi-cultural prayer meeting at Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto, December 20, 2015. Canadian diplomats were allowed to meet detained pastor Lim on Friday, after he was sentenced to life in prison in North Korea earlier last week, and found him in good spirits and health, a church spokeswoman said on Sunday. Reuters/Hyungwon Kang

Canadian consular officials were allowed to meet Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim on Friday along with a translator for the first time since he was detained in February. A prayer services was organised for keeping friends and family in high spirit on Sunday after the pastor was sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour in North Korea on Wednesday.

Lim, 60, is the pastor of Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Mississauga, Ontario. He has been charged with several offences that includes harming the dignity of the supreme leader of North Korea and for using religion to destroy its system. The Toronto-area community of Lim urged Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to intervene.

“We would love for the Trudeau government to let us know that they're on the case and they're doing due diligence and they're doing everything they can," the CBC News quoted Lisa Pak, a spokeswoman for the family and the church, as saying. "If they can give us their assurance, we're fully supportive of their efforts that they would address this issue and make it a high priority."

The one-and-a-half-hour prayer service was attended by a large number of sympathisers and supporters who filled up all the seats of the large auditorium where the service took place. A speaker at the service told the crowd that Lim was guilty of no offence.

“His only crime was that he loved North Korea too much,” he said.

Pak informed reporters on Sunday that Lim was in a relatively good health. Petitions were signed on Sunday by the members of the church that urged the Canadian House of Commons and the United Nations to make efforts by every possible means to ensure the release of Lim.

According to his relatives and colleagues, Lim was in North Korea in connection with humanitarian works and that he visited the country more than 100 times since 1997. He reportedly supported a nursery, a nursing home and an orphanage in the country.

There is no accredited representation of Canada in North Korea and the diplomatic affairs are handled from Seoul and the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang. But neither Canada nor Sweden allowed access to Lim, until Friday.

After the North Korean authorities confirmed detaining Lim in March, his family and friends did not hear from him until in July. He was shown apologising publicly on television for committing “indescribable treason.” He confessed writing biblical phrases and the name of his Korean-language church on food sacks intending to overthrow the North Korean government to establish a religious state. However, such confessions made publicly by western detainees are considered to be coerced.

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