North Korea freed a Canadian pastor serving a life sentence there on humanitarian grounds, the official KCNA news agency said on Wednesday, just hours after the United States warned it would counter any threat from the North with “fire and fury”.
The release came a day after Canadian officials said a delegation led by the country’s national security adviser had travelled to North Korea to discuss the case of Hyeon Soo Lim, sentenced to hard labour for life in December 2015.
North Korea had accused Lim, who served in one of the largest churches in Canada, of attempting to overthrow the regime.
“Rim Hyon Su, a Canadian civilian, was released on sick bail according to the decision of the Central Court of the DPRK on August 9, 2017, from the humanitarian viewpoint,” KCNA said, using the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
There was no obvious direct connection between the release and the standoff with the United States, but North Korea has in the past attracted the attention of Washington, and visits by high-profile Americans, with the detention and release of US citizens.
Lim’s family had become more concerned for his welfare since the death in June of American student Otto Warmbier, who had been held in North Korea for 17 months.
Warmbier, sentenced last year to 15 years’ hard labour for trying to steal a propaganda item from his hotel during a tour, died in a Cincinnati hospital just days after being released in a coma. The circumstances of his death remain unclear.
North Korea is still holding three Americans. The US State Department said last week it would ban US nationals from travelling to the isolated country, beginning in September.
Lim’s Toronto-area church has said he visited the North more than 100 times since 1997 and helped set up an orphanage and nursing home. Last year, Lim told CNN he spent eight hours a day digging holes at a labour camp where he had not seen any other prisoners.
On Wednesday, North Korea said it was considering plans for a missile strike on the US Pacific territory of Guam, just hours after President Donald Trump told the North that any threat to the United States would be met with “fire and fury”.