A Canadian pastor imprisoned in North Korea since 2015 has been released on humanitarian grounds because of his ill health, according to the country's state news agency.
News of the release of 62-year-old Hyeon Soo Lim – also known as Rim Hyon Su –comes just hours after a high-level Canadian delegation, led by the prime minister's national security adviser, had arrived in the country in the hope of intervening in his case.
'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,' said the KCNA news agency said Wednesday, using the pariah state's official name, Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
'He had been under the penalty of indefinite hard labor as he conducted hostile deeds against the DPRK,' the agency added.
Detained in early 2015, Lim was sentenced to a life of hard labour on December 16, 2015 for 'harming the dignity of the supreme leader,' 'trying to use religion to destroy North Korea' and 'assisting North Koreans escape.'
Lim, the senior pastor of the Light Presbyterian Church in Mississauga, had made frequent humanitarian visits to North Korea on behalf of his church.
There ahave been concerns that Lim's health has suffered while in captivity, sparking diplomatic efforts to seek his release.
The delegation that arrived in North Korea today was headed by Daniel Jean, who serves as Justin Trudeau's national security advisor.
Canadian officials had not yet commented at the time of writing.
'Pastor Lim's health and well-being remain of utmost importance to the government of Canada as we continue to engage on this case,' said Cameron Ahmad, a spokesperson for Trudeau, yesterday.
The release comes amid heightened tensions between North Korea and the West after the US President Donald Trump reacted with fury to an intelligence report that suggested Pyongyang had the nuclear firepower to hit America.
Trump warned North Korea's supreme leader Kim Jong-un any threats would be met 'with fire and fury and, frankly, power the likes of which the world has never seen before'.
North Korea responded by saying on state media it is considering a strike on the US Pacific territory of Guam.
Pyongyang has been carrying out several missile tests in recent weeks and has tested nuclear devices five times, including two intercontinental ballistic middles (ICBM) in July, in what are perceived to be acts of aggression towards the West.
In response the UN approved further economic sanctions on North Korea on Saturday in an attempt to pressurise Kim Jong-un to give up his nuclear weapons.
A senior Canadian official said their trip was solely linked to Lim's condition and was not related to the increasing global tensions with the state.