TORONTO (Reuters) - A Canadian pastor whom North Korea released this month after two years of imprisonment escaped execution and torture during his captivity because of his nationality, he told CBC News in his first interview since his return.
Hyeon Soo Lim, the pastor from Toronto, said in an interview broadcast on Saturday that he was never harmed and that he would not hesitate to go back to North Korea if the country allowed him. A transcript of the interview was posted on the Canadian public broadcaster’s website.
“If I’m just Korean, maybe they kill me,” Lim said. “I’m Canadian so they cannot, because they cannot kill the foreigners.”
Lim, formerly the senior pastor at one of Canada’s largest churches, had disappeared on a mission to North Korea in early 2015. He was sentenced to hard labor for life in December 2015 on charges of attempting to overthrow the Pyongyang regime.
He said North Korea treated him well despite forcing him to dig holes and break coal by hand all day in a labor camp.
Lim told CBC News that he was “coached and coerced” into confessing that he traveled under the guise of humanitarian work as part of a “subversive plot” to overthrow the government and set up a religious state.
North Korea let him go on humanitarian grounds. The announcement came during heightened tensions between Washington and Pyongyang, although authorities have not said there was any connection between his release and efforts to defuse the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear program.
Lim said he felt no anger at the Kim Jong Un regime for sentencing him to prison.
“No, I thanked North Korea,” he said. “I forgive them.”
Reporting by Denny Thomas; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn