A Korean-Canadian pastor detained in North Korea appeared for the first time in months on Thursday, admitting to a bizarre plot to overthrow the regime in a country known for eliciting forced confessions from detainees.
The Reverend Hyeon Soo Lim has travelled to North Korea about 100 times over the past 20 years for humanitarian aid work, according to the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Mississauga, Canada, where he works as a pastor. He was due to return from his most recent trip in early February, but was not heard from over the next six months, according to church spokesperson Lisa Pak.
A video provided to news agencies by the Associated Press showed Lim entering the People's Palace of Culture in Pyongyang alone and bowing, before laying out a scheme to win over the North Korean people in a bid to replace the communist government with a religious state.
"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," he said.
He said that he had printed a cross and the name of his church on bags of food provisions "in order to create the impression that it is God, and not the Worker's Party and this country's government which gives things to eat and provides the means to live."
Lim then claimed that his humanitarian work was a pretext for building "a base to overthrow the system of the country and create a religious state, taking advantage of the policies of the US and South Korean authorities."
"The basic reason that I was so active in providing aid to this country in the past was to remove loyalty in the hearts of the North Korean people toward their authorities," he said. "I deeply, deeply apologize from my heart for my heart, for my indescribable treason."
A representative from the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs told VICE News that they are "deeply concerned about the case" and "continue to advocate for consular access and for a resolution in his case." They were unable to provide information about his current condition, or any more details regarding his case. Pak says that to her knowledge the government's efforts to reach him have been unsuccessful.
A press release from Lim's church said that "the family and church are eager to have Mr. Lim home after close to seven months in detention in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea." Earlier news reports suggested that Lim had been released, but Pak told VICE News that the statement never implied that the pastor has been freed.
"No, he has not been released (to our latest knowledge)," she wrote in an email response.
The church's press release, also sent to VICE News, said that "the humanitarian aid projects that Mr. Lim has both initiated and supported in the DPRK have been for the betterment of the people." Pak has insisted in earlier reports that Lim's work was not political.
"He remains a compassionate and generous man and we hope to see him home soon," the statement continued. "We are grateful for all those who share in our concerns and ask for your continued prayers and support."
Lim's statement follows apparently trumped-up public confessions extracted from foreigners held by North Korea's despotic government. American Korean War veteran Merrill Newman said he was forced to admit to decades-old war crimes and "hostile acts" he supposedly committed while returning to the country in 2013. He later said that he emphasized the extremely awkward English of the text he was given in order to indicate that it was false. Lim, who spoke in Korean, did not have that luxury.
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Watch the VICE News Documentary, Launching Balloons into North Korea: Propaganda Over Pyongyang: