A Canadian pastor being held in North Korea has admitted to planning “subversive plots” to overthrow the government and set up a “religious state”, agencies said quoting Pyongyang’s official news agency KCNA.

Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim at an agricultural project in North Korea
Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim at an agricultural project in North Korea

Reverend Hyeon Soo Lim, of the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto, was detained by North Korean authorities in January soon after he arrived from China, according to Canadian consular officials.

Quoting KCNA, AFP said Lim had admitted to carrying out “subversive plots and activities in a sinister bid to build a religious state in the DPRK,” using North Korea’s official name.

“I have so far malignantly defamed the dignity and social system of the DPRK, pursuant to the scenario of the US and the South Korean regime,” Lim was quoted as telling officials, media and diplomats at the People’s Palace of Culture.

“I delivered a ‘report on what is going on in North Korea’ before tens of thousands of South Koreans and overseas Koreans at sermon on Sundays at my church and during preaching tours of more than 20 countries,” KCNA quoted him as saying.

However, Reverend Chun Ki-Won, the director of Durihana, a South Korean Christian missionary organisation helping North Korean refugees, said Lim was one of the most influential Christian missionaries operating in the North.

According to him, Lim has led numerous aid missions to North Korea involving work with orphanage houses, nursing homes and food plants, — missions KCNA said were a cover for his plan to damage the “dignity and social system of the DPRK”.

Lisa Pak, a church spokeswoman in Canada, told National Post Lim was on a humanitarian mission to North Korea.

According to her, the 60-year-old Christian missionary left Canada on Jan. 27 with stops in South Korea and China before crossing into North Korea on Jan. 31.

She said Lim’s family remains hopeful he will be released at some point, but didn’t want to comment on the reports of his alleged confessions.

A Foreign Affairs spokeswoman in Ottawa said the government is “deeply concerned” and continues to try to arrange consular access and find a resolution to his case.

Assistance is difficult, however, because Canada has no diplomatic office in the Communist nation.

Pak said the pastor has a deep love for the North Korean people, which is the reason he has visited the country more than 100 times.

Lim’s family has previously said that much of his work has focused on North Korea’s northeastern region of Rason.

Pak said he has also helped out schools, an orphanage and a nursing home.

Lim started the church nearly three decades ago, shortly after he immigrated from South Korea.

He grew the congregation from about a dozen people in 1986 to more than 3,000 members today, Pak said.

He also runs a smaller church in downtown Toronto that caters to young people, she said.

Pyongyang views foreign missionaries with deep suspicion and, while it allows some to undertake humanitarian work, anyone caught engaging in any unauthorised activities faces immediate arrest.

A number of missionaries — mostly American citizens — have been arrested in North Korea in the past with some of them only allowed to return home after interventions by high-profile US figures.

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