SEOUL, Korea, Republic Of — North Korea said Wednesday it released a Canadian pastor who has been serving a life sentence since 2015 for alleged anti-state activities over health reasons.
Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said that Hyeon Soo Lim was released on “sick bail” following a decision by the country’s Central Court. The agency didn’t provide further details.
The office of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier said that a delegation led by his national security adviser, Daniel Jean, arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday to discuss Lim’s imprisonment.
Lim, a South Korean-born Canadian citizen in his 60s, was convicted and sentenced in 2015 on charges of trying to use religion to destroy the North Korean system and helping U.S. and South Korean authorities lure and abduct North Korean citizens.
South Korea, the U.S. and others often accuse North Korea of using foreign detainees to wrest diplomatic concessions, and foreigners have said after their release that their declarations of guilt had been coerced while in North Korean custody.
Lim’s release came nearly two months after the death of U.S. college student Otto Warmbier shortly after he was released from North Korea in a coma. Warmbier had been sentenced to 15 years of hard labour in March 2016 after being accused of stealing a propaganda poster.
Trudeau’s spokesman Cameron Ahmad said the government considered Lim’s health of “utmost importance” but did not give more details about the delegation.
Lim pastored the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto. His supporters have said he was on a humanitarian mission to North Korea when he was detained.
Canada does not have diplomatic offices in Pyongyang and relies on Sweden to handle consular issues. Lim met with the Swedish ambassador at least twice this year and met Canadian officials in December.
At least three Americans and six South Koreans remain in custody in the North.