Canadian pastor being held in North Korea speaks at news conference

Story highlights

  • Rev. Hyeon Soo Lim confesses to activities aimed at toppling the government of North Korea
  • Family spokesperson is extremely skeptical of the charges and the confession
  • Westerners held previously in North Korea have said that their confessions were given under pressure

(CNN)A Canadian pastor detained in North Korea made his first public appearance at a news conference in Pyongyang on Thursday, nearly six months after he was arrested in the country while on a humanitarian visit, according to North Korea's state-run news agency KCNA.

Reading from a statement, Rev. Hyeon Soo Lim confessed to activities aimed at toppling the government of North Korea and to violating the country's Ebola quarantine policy in February by "illegally" entering the capital, KCNA reported.
    "I have so far malignantly defamed the dignity and social system of (North Korea)," Lim said, according to KCNA.
    Lim traveled into North Korea from China on January 30 with plans to tend to aid projects established by his church in the northeastern city of Rajin, including an orphanage, a nursery and a nursing home.
    A church leader who speaks on behalf of the family, Lisa Pak, described the trips as "routine" and said that Lim had visited the country over 100 times.
    In a statement given first to CNN on Thursday, Pak said, "There are no comments regarding the charges and allegations made against Mr. Lim except that the humanitarian aid projects that Mr. Lim has both initiated and supported in the DPRK have been for the betterment of the people."
    "It is this tremendous love for the people of the DPRK that motivated Mr. Lim to travel to the nation over 100 times," she said.

    Coerced confessions

    Westerners held previously in North Korea have said that their confessions were given under pressure from the state.
    In April, U.S. citizen Sandra Suh was released from detention in the country and deported to the United States after admitting to "plot-breeding and propaganda against the DPRK," according to KCNA.
    Lim apologized in his statement for trying "to remove loyalty in the hearts of the North Korean people to their authorities," according to The Associated Press, which was also present for the news conference. AP reported it was delivered in front of a packed room of Pyongyang-based journalists.
    "The purpose that I traveled about several parts of the country on the pretext of "aid" was to build a base to overthrow the system of the country and create a religious state, taking advantage of the policies of the U.S. and South Korean authorities," Lim said, according to the AP.
    "The most serious crimes I have committed are that I severely slandered and impaired the supreme dignity and system of this country and perpetrated a scheme to overthrow the state," the AP reported Lim said.

    'Canada is deeply concerned'

    "Canada is deeply concerned with the case of Mr. Lim, who remains detained in North Korea," said Diana Khaddaj, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. "We continue to advocate for consular access and for a resolution in his case."
    A Pyongyang official who answered the phone at the country's permanent mission to the United Nations in New York told CNN he wasn't aware of the confession.
    Lim, 60, is the leader of the 3,000-person Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Mississauga, Ontario.
    He immigrated to Canada from South Korea with his wife and son in 1986.
    In the confession, Lim also admits to showing his congregation and posting online a video, "The Reality of DPRK," using material filmed secretly within the country, according to Japan's Kyodo news agency.
    Pak told CNN in March, after the Canadian government first acknowledged Lim's detention, that she didn't believe Lim would have engaged in proselytizing in North Korea, an act illegal in the state.
    "He knows the language, he knows the nature of the government, so we don't see that as a legitimate reason that he would be detained," she said. "We don't believe that's the way he would have behaved. He's very wise about that."
    In the statement given on Thursday, Pak thanked "those who share in our concerns" and asked for continued prayers and support.
    "He remains a compassionate and generous man and we hope to see him home soon," she said.