40 Hours in Pyongyang

The family of Pastor Hyeon Soo Lim and all Canadians are celebrating his safe return to Canada last week. The efforts of the Canadian Government on behalf of Pastor Lim, to free him from North Korea, have been laudable.

Canadian Pastor Lim was arrested in North Korea two years ago on charges of “subversion,” “harming the dignity of the supreme leader” and trying to “overthrow the government and undermine its social system with ‘religious activities.’” In other words, he was charged because he was a Christian and he criticized the regime. Lim (62) has made 100 trips to North Korea over the past 20 years in an effort to bring hope and alleviate suffering to that dark and impoverished land. He set up an orphanage and a home for seniors and for his efforts he was sentenced to life imprisonment and hard labour.

The Canadian Government began negotiating for Lim’s release as soon as he was arrested but negotiations began in earnest last December. The talks stalled for two months when North Korea demanded that in return for his release that Canada recognize them diplomatically and name an official ambassador to North Korea. The Government rightly refused. Then, by an act of providence, the North Korean’s decided that it would be too expensive to continue to hold Lim (due to his deteriorating health). They made overtures that they were ready for a visit from a Canadian envoy to discuss releasing him.

The Government sent a delegation, headed by Daniel Jean, the Prime Minister’s National Security/Intelligence Advisor. It included two directors from Global Affairs Canada, two medical doctors and a member of the Canadian Forces. The plane landed in Pyongyang (the North Korean capital) dropped off the delegation and then returned (for security reasons) to Japan to wait for news.

Twenty five hours after their arrival, State-run media reported Lim was freed on “sick bail.” Fifteen hours after that a Canadian Forces plane returned to Pyongyang to collect the delegation and Lim.

They touched down at the Yokota Airbase in Japan, shortly after 1 pm Thursday local time. The delegation had successfully completed their mission and, according to sources with knowledge of the negotiations, “conceded nothing.”

Lim returned home to his family and church in Toronto on Friday.

I congratulate the Liberal Government, and their Swedish counterparts who facilitated this negotiation, on securing Pastor Lim’s release. Job well done.