A senior North Korean official spoke to the Swedish ambassador this week about a Canadian pastor imprisoned in North Korea and sentenced to life in prison with hard labor, according to the Communist government's official news agency.
A North Korean Foreign Ministry official met with the Swedish ambassador Thursday for talks on consular access for the Rev. Hyeon Soo Lim, a 60-year-old Canadian pastor who was born in South Korea and was arrested and given a life sentence of hard labor by a North Korean court in December 2015, Korean Central News Agency reported, according The Associated Press.
The Swedish ambassador also raised the issue of consular affairs for at least two American detainees being held for alleged espionage, subversion and other anti-state activities, the newswire said, adding, however, that the Pyongyang official said North Korea would deal with the issues in line with a wartime law. The official didn't explain what that law is.
Lim's family thanked the Swedish ambassador for the efforts. "We would like to extend our particular gratitude to the Swedish officials for their ongoing support and work in aiding our government on behalf of our family," the family said, according to The Canadian Press. "We hope to see him home soon."
Lim is the pastor of the 3,000-member Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Mississauga, Ontario. Although he was visiting North Korea for a humanitarian purpose, state prosecutors accused him of using the "false pretense" of humanitarian aid to enter into North Korea to use religion to attempt to overthrow the Kim regime.
KCNA said at the time that Lim was guilty of "[committing] anti-DPRK religious activities, [conducting] false propaganda among overseas Koreans, and [taking] active part in the operation of the U.S. and (a South Korean) conservative group to lure and abduct DPRK citizens [...] in their programs for 'aiding defectors from the North.'"
In January, over 125,000 people signed an online petition calling for Lim's release. The petition posted to the advocacy website change.org called on Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon, Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, and Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs Stephane Dion to work to free Rev. Lim.
Also in January, Will Ripley of CNN got to interview Lim in North Korea. The pastor said he was receiving regular meals and medical treatment as part of his time in prison.
"Lim has been held in a labor camp. He appears to be the only inmate. He has not seen any other prisoners. Lim works eight hours a day, six days a week, with rest breaks, digging holes for the planting of apple trees in the prison orchard," CNN said. "There are always two guards watching over him. He is serving a life sentence of hard labor. He has no contact with the outside world."
In December, about 1,000 people held a prayer vigil for the imprisoned pastor at Light Presbyterian Church.
According to Open Doors, anywhere from 50,000 to 70,000 Christians are suffering in labor camps in North Korea.