North Korea sentences Canadian pastor to hard labor for life

North Korea’s highest court has sentenced a South Korea-born Canadian pastor to hard labor for life for subversion, the North’s official KCNA news agency reported on Wednesday, a punishment condemned by Canada as “unduly harsh.”

Hyeon Soo Lim, the head pastor at a Toronto church that is one of Canada’s largest, has been held by North Korea since February. He had appeared on North Korean state media earlier this year confessing to crimes against the state.

Lim admitted during the trial to “not only viciously defaming the highest dignity of Korea and its system but also possessing the wicked intention of trying to topple the Republic by staging an anti-state conspiracy,” KCNA said.

The court said Lim had attempted to overthrow the North Korean government and undermine its social system with “religious activities” for the past 18 years, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.

The prosecution sought the death penalty, but the defense asked for leniency despite the gravity of his crimes “so that he can witness for himself the reality of the nation of the Sun as it grows in power and prosperity,” KCNA said.

The court sentenced him to hard labor for life, it said.

The Canadian government said it was dismayed by the “unduly harsh sentence” imposed, particularly given Lim’s “age and fragile health” and said it had not been able to meet with Lim since his detention, despite repeated requests.

“This is a serious violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the right of states to have consular access to their citizens,” spokeswoman Diana Khaddaj said in an emailed statement.

KCNA did not mention what specific activities Lim engaged in, but Xinhua reported that Lim confessed to helping people defect from North Korea, and had met the U.S. ambassador to Mongolia regarding the plans.

Most defectors fleeing isolated, repressive North Korea travel to South Korea via China and Southeast Asia. It is also possible to defect via Mongolia.

The court held that he fabricated anti-North Korean propaganda as part of a U.S. and South Korean-led “human rights racket” against the country, Xinhua said.

A church spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment late on Tuesday in Canada.