North Korea has sentenced Hyeon Soo Lim, a Christian pastor and a Canadian citizen, to life in prison with hard labor, claiming he has committed crimes against the state.
Canada’s foreign ministry said it was “dismayed at the unduly harsh sentence,” citing Lim's age and health, the BBC reports.
Lim, who is 60 years old, was in North Korea for humanitarian work in January. He was arrested in Pyongyang in February.
The pastor is of South Korean origin and lives in Toronto, where he heads the Light Korean Presbyterian Church. His family said he had traveled to the isolated country to support a nursing home, a nursery, and an orphanage, and that his trips were not political.
He was sentenced after a 90 minute trial.
North Korean officials charged that the pastor had joined the U.S. and South Korea in a human rights “racket” against the country. They claim he fabricated and circulated false propaganda materials that tarnished North Korea’s image.
Lim was shown at a press conference confessing a plot to overthrow the government and set up a “religious state.” He said that his humanitarian work was a guise for “subversive plots and activities in a sinister bid to build a religious state.”
He allegedly admitted to giving lectures that North Korea “should be collapsed with the love of God."
Religious activity is banned in the country and foreigners are sometimes detained and undergo staged public confessions.
The pastor was also accused of funding and aiding defectors' escape through Mongolia.
Lim has made many humanitarian visits to North Korea for two decades.
Other Christians detained in North Korea include Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae, who was imprisoned for two years on charges of trying to overthrow the government. He was released in November 2014.
John Short, an Australian missionary in his mid-70s, was held for a month and deported after a February 2014 arrest on charges he distributed missionary pamphlets, Canada’s CBC News reports.
In 2014, an American Baptist named Jeffrey E. Fowle was detained for six months for an anti-state crime: leaving a Bible in a public washroom.