TORONTO — Relatives of a Canadian pastor released this week after more than two years in a North Korean prison say he is “on his way home” and they are anxious to be reunited with him.
The Korean Central News Agency reported Wednesday that North Korea’s central court had decided to free Hyeong Soo Lim, who was serving a life sentence for anti-state activities.
The pastor’s release was described as “sick bail,” but no other details were given.
In a statement Thursday, a spokeswoman for his family said “there is a long way to go” in terms of Lim’s healing and stressed the need for privacy as he receives unspecified medical attention.
Lisa Pak also said the family is grateful to the Canadian government and the Swedish embassy in North Korea for working behind the scenes to secure the pastor’s freedom. She did not say when he was scheduled to arrive in Canada.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday he was “pleased and relieved” that Lim had been released.
“Pastor Lim’s health and well-being remain of utmost importance to the government of Canada, and we are working to ensure that he receives any required medical attention,” Trudeau said in a brief statement.
The prime minister also thanked Sweden for its assistance in the matter but said “operational security considerations” prevent the government from discussing the matter further.
A Canadian delegation led by Daniel Jean, Trudeau’s national security adviser, was in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang this week to discuss Lim’s case.
Lim, a pastor with the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Mississauga, Ont., had been sentenced by a North Korean court to life in prison with hard labour for what it called crimes against the state.
Charges against him included harming the dignity of the supreme leadership, trying to use religion to destroy the North Korean system, disseminating negative propaganda about the North to overseas Koreans, and helping American and South Korean efforts to help people defect from the north.
Lim, who has a wife and son living in the Toronto area, started the Light Korean Presbyterian Church nearly three decades ago, shortly after he emigrated from South Korea.
He grew the congregation from about a dozen people in 1986 to more than 3,000 members. He also runs a smaller church in downtown Toronto that caters to young people.
The church has taken on numerous humanitarian projects in North Korea, one of which prompted Lim’s last trip there in January 2015.
Members of the congregation celebrated news of his release Wednesday.
— With files from The Associated Press
The Canadian Press