Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim, North Korea’s longest-held western prisoner in decades, was “released on sick bail” Wednesday by the country’s top court for “humanitarian” reasons after two and a half years in detention, state-run news agency KCNA said.
Lim’s son, James Lim, received word over the weekend that a plane carrying senior Canadian officials, a medical doctor, and a letter to North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un was dispatched to Pyongyang “at the last minute,” according to family spokeswoman Lisa Pak. The plane landed in the North Korean capital Monday.
Lim was serving a life sentence of hard labor after being convicted of crimes against the state in December 2015. The 62-year-old’s health has deteriorated while in North Korean custody and the pastor has experienced “dramatic” weight loss, Pak said.
His family has not been allowed to see him during his imprisonment, but have been able to send him letters and blood pressure medication via the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang, which often serves as an intermediary for prisoners from nations with no formal diplomatic ties to North Korea.
Lim detained in February 2015 while on a humanitarian mission in Rajin, North Korea, a family spokesperson said at the time. He was acting on behalf of the Light Korean Presbyterian Church, which he had led since 1986. According to his family, Lim has made more than 100 trips to North Korea since 1997, and his humanitarian efforts have included the founding by his church of a nursery, orphanage, and nursing home in the northeastern city of Rajin.
In a January 2016 interview with CNN in Pyongyang — his first conversation with foreign media — the Canadian said he was the sole prisoner in a labor camp, digging holes for eight hours a day, six days a week. At the time, he said he received regular medical care and three meals per day.