North Korea releases Canadian pastor after more than 2 years in detention

(Reuters/KCNA)South Korea-born Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim stands during his trial at a North Korean court in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang December 16, 2015.

North Korea has released Canadian Pastor Hyeon Soo Lim after serving two and a half years of his life sentence for "crimes against the state."

Lim, the senior pastor at the Light Presbyterian Church in Mississauga, Ontario, was released on humanitarian grounds after a Canadian delegation arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday to discuss his case.

"Rim Hyon Su, a Canadian civilian, was released on sick bail according to the decision of the Central Court of the DPRK on Aug. 9, 2017 from the humanitarian viewpoint," the Korean Central News Agency reported on Wednesday, using the country's official name, Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"He (Lim) had been under the penalty of indefinite hard labour as he conducted hostile deeds against the DPRK," the news agency added.

The 62-year-old pastor is expected to fly to Ottawa on a Canadian government charter directly from North Korea's capital of Pyongyang, according to Toronto Star.

Lim, who is thought to be the longest-held western prisoner in North Korea, had made about 110 trips to the communist country since 1997. His family said that he traveled to Pyongyang in January 2015 to build a nursing home, nursery and orphanage. The pastor went missing on the day he crossed the border from China into a northern region that same month. North Korean authorities later confirmed that the pastor had been detained.

In December that year, Lim was given a life sentence in a hard labor camp after he was convicted of ostensibly plotting to overthrow the authoritarian regime of Kim Jong Un.

As a prisoner, the pastor reportedly dug holes for eight hours a day, six days a week, in a hard-labor camp.

Lim is said to be in poor health, and he suffers from high blood pressure, which requires medication.

North Korean officials reportedly allowed medicine to be sent to the pastor via the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang. The Swedish Embassy serves as the protective power for Canadians in North Korea as Canada does not have a diplomatic presence in the country.

A medical doctor was reportedly aboard the Canadian charter that flew the delegates to North Korea.

Sen. Yonah Martin, the deputy leader of the Conservatives in the Senate and a friend of the pastor, described her reaction to Lim's imminent release as "relief and disbelief — with a lot of anxiousness mixed in."

"I had a great sense of relief but it took me by surprise only because it had been so long," she said of Lim's detention, which lasted more than 900 days. "This is long-awaited," she added.

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