North Korea is accusing Canadian government officials of “spouting rubbish” about the trial of Hyeon Soo Lim, the Canadian pastor who North Korea recently sentenced to a life of hard labor.
KCNA, North Korea’s state-run media agency, reported Tuesday that a spokesman for the country’s foreign ministry blasted Canada for its response to Lim’s sentence, handed down last week. The Toronto Star previously reported Canada’s government felt the punishment was “unduly harsh,” and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told said it sparked “tremendous concern.”
The spokesman told KCNA it was “very shocking” that Canada’s government reacted the way that it did, rather than “feeling guilty about the hideous crime,” that Lim allegedly committed.
The governments of both the United States and Canada actively warn citizens against traveling to North Korea, in large part because the North’s legal system isn’t known for consistently applying its strict laws. The U.S. Department of State warns that things that might not seem criminal — like bringing photographs into the country — can lead to people being detained, arrested or sentenced to hard labor or death. Unsanctioned religious activity is also illegal there.
KCNA reported that Lim was accused of subversion, committing anti-North Korean religious activities and spreading false propaganda about the country overseas, among other charges.
However, Lim’s family members have told CNN that the South Korean-born pastor of the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto, who is in his 60s, frequently went to North Korea over the past 18 years for a variety of humanitarian causes and his trips were not political in nature.
While KCNA reported the pastor confessed to all of the crimes, The Toronto Star reported other foreigners held in North Korea have said they were pressured into confessing. The paper quoted Trudeau as saying “issues about North Korea’s governance and judicial system are well-known.”
North Korea’s foreign ministry spokesman told KCNA that Canada’s stance on Lim’s sentence would only further complicate the situation. The spokesman said that Canada “has no legal justifications” to find fault with any of North Korea’s actions, and Canada should have apologized and taken steps to prevent future crimes rather than shifting blame to North Korea.
The war of words in the press comes two days after Reuters reported that North Korea allowed Canadian diplomats to meet with the pastor in prison last week. Relaying the information she received about the visit, a church spokeswoman on Sunday told the news agency that the pastor’s spirits remained high and that he had been given medicine to treat his health condition.