Canadian church wants new PM to help free pastor detained in North Korea

TORONTO (Reuters) - One of Canada’s largest churches said on Thursday it wants new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to bring attention to the case of its pastor detained in North Korea when he meets with Asian leaders next week in Manila.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a news conference in Ottawa, Canada November 12, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Trudeau, who ousted the nine-year-old government of former prime minister Stephen Harper last month, is under pressure to advance a multitude of issues as he embarks on his first global trip as Canada’s new leader, including the case of Rev. Hyeon Soo Lim.

Lim, head of the 3,000-member Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto, was detained during a humanitarian trip to North Korea in February, and in July confessed to crimes aimed at overthrowing the state.

“We are hoping that the Trudeau government takes full advantage of whatever means and platform available - (for example) at APEC - to bring international awareness to Mr. Lim’s detainment that would help move diplomatic talks to a speedy and positive resolution,” church spokeswoman Lisa Pak said in an email.

The church last week sent an email to Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion to “strenuously urge the new Liberal government to pursue all possible means to secure the immediate release and return” of Lim.

Trudeau will meet with leaders of the Group of 20 in Turkey this weekend before heading on to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in the Philippines next week.

Canada suspended diplomatic relations with Pyongyang in 2010, making progress on Lim’s case difficult.

A spokesman for Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs said consular officials are in contact with Lim’s family and Canada remains “deeply concerned” with the case.

“We continue to advocate for consular access and for a resolution in his case,” spokesman Francois Lasalle said in an email.

In July, Lim appeared at a news conference in North Korea and confessed that he had traveled to North Korea in the guise of humanitarian work and gathered information that he used in sermons outside the country in a bid to drive the regime to a collapse “with the love of God.”

The church has said South Korean-born Lim has visited North Korea more than 100 times since 1997 and has helped establish an orphanage and a nursing home there. He has lived in Canada since 1986 and is a Canadian citizen.

Both North Korea and China have clamped down on Christian groups over the past year, and several American Christians have been detained by North Korea.

Reporting by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Alan Crosby