Canadian group meets pastor detained in North Korea; family fears for his health

Canadian pastor detained in North Korea
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  • His health is a major concern, family says
  • Lim has been in North Korean custody since last January

(CNN)The family of a Canadian pastor sentenced to hard labor for life in North Korea fears his health may be failing.

A Canadian delegation visited Rev. Hyeon Soo Lim in Pyongyang this week, and a spokeswoman for the family is awaiting more details on his condition.
    The delegation from the Seoul office of Global Affairs Canada entered Pyongyang on Monday and left on Friday, said Lisa Pak, a family spokeswoman.
    Canada representatives saw Lim and "his health does now seem to be of concern," she said.
    She also expressed concern for the emotional state of the pastor, who has been in North Korean custody since last January.
    Lim has limited contact with the outside world through occasional consular visits and a handful of letters with his family.
    Pak did not know if the pastor's request for a Bible had been granted.

    Few details

    "While it is good news to hear that Canada has sent a delegation into Pyongyang this past week, we are hoping to hear the best news, that Reverend Lim will be returning home," Pak said.
    "We trust that Canada is doing all they can to secure his release and urge Canadian officials to continue engaging in diplomatic talks at the highest levels possible."
    François Lasalle, deputy director of media relations for Global Affairs Canada, confirmed that a Canadian delegation visited Lim but did not provide further details.
    "Canada is concerned for Mr. Lim's rights and well being. We have been fully engaged on this case since it began. Consular officials are providing assistance to Mr. Lim and his family. We are grateful that we were able to visit him," Lasalle said in an email to CNN.
    Lasalle did not specify who met with Lim or whether the Canadian delegation discussed the pastor's case with North Korean officials.

    Second time

    This is second time a Canadian delegation has been allowed to meet with Lim since his sentencing in December for crimes against the state.
    State prosecutors claimed Lim entered North Korea more than 100 times under the "false pretense" of humanitarian aid, but instead tried to use religion to overthrow the atheist regime.
    In January, CNN spoke exclusively to Lim, who described the labor camp where he digs holes in an orchard eight hours a day, six days a week.
    "I wasn't originally a laborer, so the labor was hard at first, but now I've gotten used to it," Lim said at the time.
    At the time, he said he was receiving regular medical care and three meals a day.
    Lim is lead pastor of the 3,000-member Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto. He was detained during a humanitarian trip to North Korea in January 2015.
    Lim was visiting Rajin, in northeastern North Korea, where his church supports an orphanage and a nursing home.
    He immigrated to Canada from South Korea with his wife and son in 1986, and speaks fluent Korean.
    He is one of several westerners North Korea has detained on religious grounds.

    Other detainees

    Previous cases include American Kenneth Bae, who was detained for two years after North Korea accused him of trying to bring down the government through religious activities. Bae was released in November, 2014 -- about two months after CNN interviewed him and two other detained Americans.
    North Korea released Bae and American tourist Matthew Miller after a rare visit by a top U.S. official and a letter from President Barack Obama.
    Another detained American interviewed by CNN, Jeffrey Fowle, was arrested after leaving a Bible at a club in North Korea. He was released after five months in detention.
    Aijalon Mahli Gomes, a U.S. citizen sentenced to eight years of hard labor and believed to be a Christian activist, was released from North Korea in 2010 after a visit to Pyongyang by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.