Hyeon Soo Lim was sentenced to hard labor for life by North Korea’s highest court
on December 16, 2015. Image: Korean Central News Agency (KCNA)
The life sentence of ‘hard labor’ handed
down to Canadian Pastor Lim Hyeon Soo on charges of ‘plotting to overthrow the
country’ is “outrageously unjust,” a source who has known the pastor for nearly
a decade told Daily NK.
The source, who is a North Korean defector,
said Pyongyang’s treatment of the pastor is egregious especially given the
extensive volunteer work he had done for the North Korean people over the past
His sudden detainment has also raised
speculation among the Korean-Canadian community that the pastor may have ties
with Kim Jong Un’s executed uncle Jang Song Thaek.
Daily NK sat down with the source, who
asked to remain anonymous, to learn more about the pastor and his past
activities in the North.
1. [Daily NK] How long have you known Pastor Lim?
Since the mid-2000s until he was detained
in the North last year in January, I was with him in Canada. In the spring or summer,
we would go to nearby places on trips, and in the winter, we would watch people
go fishing. I also attended his sermons and was active in supporting his work.
2. What is Pastor Lim like as a person?
It’s not just his title of being a pastor,
he is a really great human being. He really helped people like me who are from
North Korea a lot. In some ways, I would say a lot of people from the North
managed to get permanent residency in Canada thanks to his help. He provided a
lot of financial help but also supported us so we would be able to settle down
quickly in Canada. Defectors who were able to get permanent residency thanks to
Pastor Lim now have stable lives in Canada.
Another thing is that he’s very frugal. He
has been living in one apartment for 25 years now and has an old Korean car. He
was always ready to offer more up for others, and that’s what led him to his
volunteer work in North Korea. In North America, if you have a church with over
3,000 members in the congregation, it’s considered a huge church. I don’t know
how this will sound, but had he wanted to, he would have been able to live a
comfortable life in Canada, but he didn’t choose to live that way at all.
3. I’ve heard that Pastor Lim has been
visiting North Korea since the late 90s. Was there a reason why he started to
There was the religious duty that he had,
but more than anything he just had a lot of interest in North Korea. During his
sermons, he would always talk about the need to help the people in North Korea.
So he would go to the North two to three times a month. All combined, I think
he has visited more than 100 times.
4. If he has been there more than 100
times, I imagine he must have been engaged in a lot of different activities. Do
you know what they might be?
He was involved in a lot of different
things. He built a bread factory in the Rajin-Sonbong area and also opened
something similar to an orphanage for kkotjebi [homeless children who often beg
for food]. I don’t know exactly where, but I think it’s in Pyongan Province
that he built a noodle factory as well. He could not do this just with the
offerings from his church, so he also received aid from American human rights
organizations to collect the funds. The pastor also sent ramyeon [instant
noodles] and other aid supplies on countless occasions.
5. People must have been shocked when they
heard the news of his detainment.
It was a huge mess. No one would believe it
because he had been there two to three times a month, and he went there not for
any political reasons but because he wanted to help the North Korean people. So
knowing he had been detained, everyone didn’t know what to make of it.
6. What did you think when you saw the
We all thought when he didn’t come back as
had scheduled that something had gone wrong. In some ways, I think people
thought the worst has finally come, and what we had all worried about had
finally happened. North Korea easily can hold someone captive or kill them if
they think that person doesn’t suit their taste. That had become reality.
The press conference was when I first
realized he was alive. He said a lot of different things, but I know he had no
choice because he would have been forced by the North. If you don’t say what
they tell you to, you’re going to die, so what other choice would you have?
7. I heard that he stepped down from being head
minister of his church.
That’s correct. He’s not yet 60, so it’s
still a young age to be running a ministry. Despite that, he had stepped down
from that position, because he wanted to more actively volunteer in the North.
I’d like to emphasize once again that it was not with political aims in mind
but to help improve people’s quality of life there.
8. He went to the North in January last year.
Do you know what it was for?
From what a I know, his visit this time
around was related to building a hotel near Pyongyang. He wanted to build a
facility that would provide lodging for foreigners visiting the North and use
the money made from that for people in need. He went for that but then got
I heard a lot of preparation went into this
January trip. You need a lot of money to build a hotel, so Pastor Lim went
around many areas including in the U.S. to raise the funds. The goal was to
discuss this issue with the North Korean state this time and next time he
visits actually produce results. That’s why everyone is confused about his
people are confused about why this suddenly all happened?
That’s right. It doesn’t make any sense.
There is no way Pyongyang was unaware before that Pastor Lim was critical of
the leadership. There’s no way they wouldn’t have looked into someone who has
visited the country more than 100 times, and Pastor Lim always shared his
thoughts about his visits after returning from his volunteer work, so it
doesn’t make sense that the North didn’t know about all of this. That’s why I
think there’s another reason behind this all.
10. What’s the word going around in the
These are rumors, so I don’t know how true
this is, but many are saying that the pastor is somehow connected to Jang Song
Thaek. So someone connected to Jang has ties with Pastor Lim, and having
realized this the North was waiting for the right opportunity to detain him.
That’s what everyone says. Since Pastor Lim lives abroad, they were waiting for
the right moment to teach him a lesson.
It has been almost 20 years since Pastor
Lim has been to the North and spoken of it. That’s an extensive period of time,
so why would it have happened just now? He was trying to build a hotel there
and invest in the North, so they would have no other reason to suddenly hold
11. Are you saying that detaining him will
only cause losses for the North?
Yes. That’s why everyone is so dumbfounded
by this. Unless he is somehow linked to a political issue, there is no reason
to hold him. We don’t think he has direct ties to Jang Song Thaek, but since he
had met with high-level cadre in the central Party often, we’re guessing that
official has ties to Jang. There’s no other way to explain it. It’s not like
the North would not have known about his past opinions on the country.
12. Since the pastor didn’t go there with any
political goals in mind and was there to help others, I hope we hear some goods
news very soon.
I really hope so too, and I do believe that
will happen. He has always had a genuine heart about helping out people in
North Korea, so I believe there will be good news. Also, the Canadian
government is making a lot of effort on the diplomatic front, so I hope for