North Korea has denounced Canada's reaction to the imprisonment of a Christian pastor as "malicious slander," and blasted the Canadian government for daring "to pick a quarrel with our fair and just judicial decision."
Last week, the despotic regime's Supreme Court handed down a life sentence with hard labor against Hyeon Soo Lim, a pastor at the 3,000-member Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Mississauga, Ontario, for a long list of what it deemed to be crimes against the state.
Those include harming the dignity of the supreme leadership, trying to use religion to destroy the North Korean system, disseminating negative propaganda about the North to Koreans overseas, helping American and South Korean authorities to lure and abduct North Korean citizens, and aiding their programs to assist defectors from the North.
A spokesperson for Canada's Global Affairs department said on Wednesday that the government was "dismayed" by the "unduly harsh sentence" handed down to Lim, who is in his 60s.
Speaking to reporters that same day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said "issues about North Korea's governance and judicial system are well-known."
"We are very concerned about someone being sentenced to life in North Korea and we certainly hope to be able to engage with this individual and stand up for his rights," he said.
"The first step is that Canadian consular officials need to be able to meet with Canadians in trouble anywhere around the world. Mr. Lim, in this situation, has not been seen by consular officials — except they saw him at the public sentencing," Trudeau added, noting that his government "will be continuing to press North Korea authorities." Officials have since been granted access to Lim but they remain "disappointed" by the life sentence and want to see him returned to Canada.
The earlier comments prompted an angry reaction from North Korea today.
"Public officials of Canada, including its premier, have been rashly unleashing malicious slander against our republic about the hard labor for life sentence against him," the North's KCNA news agency quoted a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying.
"We cannot suppress outrage that the Canadian government dares to pick a quarrel with our fair and just judicial decision speaking of 'concern' and 'violation of international law' when its citizen has committed a vicious crime against us."
Lim had been detained in February while visiting North Korea on a humanitarian mission, one of about 100 he has carried out since 1997, according to his church. In July, he appeared at a press conference confessing to his transgressions — although others who have been detained and later released have claimed that their confessions were obtained under duress.
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