MISSISSAUGA, Ont.—Despite a grim account of his imprisonment, the mood was joyful as a Canadian pastor freed from a North Korean prison addressed the congregation at a Toronto-area church yesterday.
During his first public appearance since arriving home, Hyeon Soo Lim described his two years in isolation, where he says he did gruelling physical labour that landed him in hospital on several occasions.
In an English translation of the address he gave in Korean, Lim describes the work he was forced to do and the effects it had on his body.
Lim had been sentenced to life in prison with hard labour for alleged anti-state activities, but was released on what the North Korean government described as “sick bail” last week.
“The mud was so hard it took two days to dig one hole. It was incredibly challenging,” Lim said.
"My upper body was sweating; my fingers and toes were frostbitten.
“One year of this difficult labour took a toll on my body and I was admitted to the hospital for two months,” he added.
“There would be three other occasions where I would be admitted to the hospital in serious condition.”
Lim said he often felt lonely and sometimes hopeless during his imprisonment.
“It was difficult to see when and how the entire ordeal would end,” he admitted.
A member of the congregation said he told his audience he didn't know about his release until 15 minutes before it happened.
When Lim arrived at the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Mississauga, he was greeted by a cheering crowd.
Some in the crowd reached out to embrace him as he walked by.
About a half-hour later, Lim gave his address in front of a church so full that some people who couldn't find seats stood in the back.
And although the speech's contents read as solemn in the English translation, he delivered them energetically.
He and the audience laughed as he delivered jokes in Korean that congregants later described as self-deprecating.
After the service, Lim told members of the media he was grateful for the support of his congregation, and for the Canadian government officials who secured his release.
“It is a miracle for me to be here today,” he said through a translator.