Canadian pastor recalls harsh life at N. Korean labour camp

MISSISSAUGA (Canada) • A Canadian pastor recently freed from imprisonment in North Korea has told of the "overwhelming loneliness" and harsh conditions he experienced during his 21/2 years in a labour camp.

Reverend Lim Hyeon Soo, 62, was imprisoned by Pyongyang in January 2015 for carrying out "subversive activities", a charge steadfastly denied by Ottawa, which sent a high-level delegation to secure his release.

The missionary finally returned home last Saturday, with his captors citing clemency on medical grounds.

He appeared slightly frail but in good spirits as he returned to his congregation on Sunday at the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Mississauga, Ontario.

The pastor sat alongside his son in the first row of worshippers with his granddaughter, who was born while he was away, perched on his knees.

He told the congregation: "From the first day of my detainment to the day I was released, I ate 2,757 meals in isolation by myself. It was difficult to see when and how the entire ordeal would end.

"During the winter, I had to dig holes that measured 1m wide and 1m deep. The ground was frozen. The mud was so hard that it took two days to dig one hole.

TOUGH CONDITIONS

During the winter, I had to dig holes that measured 1m wide and 1m deep. The ground was frozen. The mud was so hard that it took two days to dig one hole.

REVEREND LIM HYEON SOO, who was imprisoned by Pyongyang in 2015.

"It was incredibly challenging. My upper body was sweating, my fingers and toes were frostbitten. I also worked inside a coal storage facility, breaking apart coal."

The Canadian government has thanked Sweden for its role in securing Rev Lim's release, which came as the United States and North Korea are engaged in a stand-off after Pyongyang successfully tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles.

North Korea is currently holding three American citizens.

At the time of his arrest, ethnic Korean missionaries in Canada and the US called Rev Lim one of the most influential Christian missionaries operating in North Korea.

He had visited the country dozens of times, working with orphanages and nursing homes.

But some projects he worked on, including a noodle plant and flour mills, were linked to associates of Jang Song Thaek, the purged uncle of leader Kim Jong Un.

Jang was arrested and executed for treason in December 2013.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2017, with the headline 'Canadian pastor recalls harsh life at N. Korean labour camp'. Print Edition | Subscribe