North Korea jails Canadian pastor for life with hard labour

Pyongyang views foreign missionaries with deep suspicion, though it allows some to undertake humanitarian work.

Seoul: A North Korean court sentenced a Canadian pastor to life imprisonment with hard labour, while rejecting a prosecution call for the death penalty after his

conviction on sedition charges, the North's official KCNA news agency reported on Wednesday.

South Korean-born Hyeon Soo Lim, 60, a pastor at the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto, is the latest in a series of foreign missionaries to be arrested, deported or jailed for allegedly meddling in state affairs.

"The defendant Lim admitted all the charges against him including viciously defaming our system and our supreme dignity as well as plotting to overthrow our state," KCNA said.

According to KCNA, the prosecutor had asked the Supreme Court to hand down a death sentence, arguing that the pastor's crimes merited "the sternest punishment".

Ottawa hit out at the punishment, saying they "remained concerned for his rights and well-being".

"Canada is dismayed at the unduly harsh sentence given to Mr Lim by a North Korean court, particularly given his age and fragile health," Canada's foreign ministry said in a statement.

The statement said Canadian consular officials have been denied access to Lim, describing it as "a serious violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations".

Lim was detained by North Korean authorities in January after arriving from China. The specific actions that resulted in the sedition allegations have never been detailed.

According to his church in Toronto, he was on a purely humanitarian mission and had visited the North on numerous occasions to support work with orphanages and nursing homes.

In August the North released a video showing Lim attending a Sunday service at Pyongyang's Pongsu Church and confessing to various charges in an address to a small congregation that included a number of foreigners.

"I committed the gravest crime of insulting and defaming the top dignity and the leadership of the republic," Lim said in the video.

Detained foreigners are habitually required to make public and officially scripted pronouncements of their guilt in order to help secure their eventual release.

"The trial demonstrated again what kind of miserable fate awaits people like Lim -- the followers of the US and South Korean regimes that ceaselessly try to annihilate our socialist system and defame the supreme dignity of our sacred

republic," KCNA said.

Pyongyang views foreign missionaries with deep suspicion, though it allows some to undertake humanitarian work.

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