TORONTO (AP) — The family of a Canadian pastor released from a North Korean prison said Thursday he is now on his way home.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also confirmed that Hyeon Soo Lim has been released and will soon be reunited with his family. He had been serving a life sentence since 2015 for alleged anti-state activities.
The Korean Central News Agency on Wednesday reported the pastor had been released on what it called "sick bail," but no other details were given.
Family spokeswoman Lisa Pak said in a statement "there is a long way to go" in terms of Lim's healing and said he needs privacy while receiving unspecified medical attention. Park said the family is relieved, grateful and anxious to see him.
Lim, a 62-year-old South Korean-born Canadian citizen, was convicted and sentenced in 2015 on charges of trying to use religion to destroy the North Korean system and helping U.S. and South Korean authorities lure and abduct North Korean citizens.
South Korea, the U.S. and others often accuse North Korea of using foreign detainees to wrest diplomatic concessions, and foreigners have said after their release that their declarations of guilt had been coerced while in North Korean custody.
Lim's release came nearly two months after U.S. college student Otto Warmbier died shortly after he was released from North Korea in a coma. Warmbier had been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in March 2016 after being accused of stealing a propaganda poster.
Lim pastored the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto. His supporters have said he was on a humanitarian mission to North Korea when he was detained.
Canada does not have diplomatic offices in Pyongyang and relies on Sweden to handle consular issues. Lim met with the Swedish ambassador at least twice this year and met Canadian officials in December. Trudeau sent his national security adviser, Daniel Jean, to Pyongyang this week.
"The Government of Canada was actively engaged on Mr. Lim's case at all levels. In particular, I want to thank Sweden, our protecting power in North Korea, for assisting us," Trudeau said.
At least three Americans and six South Koreans remain in custody in the North.