North Korea Reportedly Holding Naturalized American Citizen On Spying Charges

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SEOUL, Jan 11 (Reuters) – A Canadian pastor serving a life sentence in North Korea for subversion said he spends eight hours a day digging holes at a labor camp, while a naturalized American citizen said he is being held by the state for spying, CNN reported from Pyongyang.

If confirmed, Kim Dong Chul, who CNN said was 60 and formerly of Fairfax, Virginia, would be the second Western citizen known to be held currently in North Korea. He was being held for spying for South Korea and asked the South or the U.S. government to rescue him, CNN said.

Hyeon Soo Lim, a South Korean-born Canadian who was the head pastor at one of Canada’s largest churches, has been held by the North since February. Lim, who was 60 at the time of his arrest, was sentenced to hard labor for life in December for attempting to overthrow the North’s regime.

“I wasn’t originally a laborer, so the labor was hard at first,” Lim told CNN in Korean through an interpreter. “But now I’ve gotten used to it.”

The charges against Lim lacked specifics, but Lim said it may have had to do with his open criticism of the North’s three generations of leaders.

“I admit I’ve violated this government’s authority, system and order,” Lim said in the interview aired on Monday. Asked if his biggest crime was speaking badly of the North’s leaders, he said: “Yes, I think so.”

Lim, who was brought into a Pyongyang hotel for the interview, his hair cropped short and wearing a grey padded prison uniform bearing the number “036” on his chest, works eight hours a day, six days a week digging holes in an orchard at a labor camp where he has seen no other prisoners, CNN said.

Lim, who had lived in Canada since 1986, gets three meals and day and regular medical attention, CNN said. His church has said Lim had a “very serious health problem, very high blood pressure.”

The church has said Lim had visited the North more than 100 times since 1997 and helped set up an orphanage and nursing home.

Kim told CNN he spied on behalf of “South Korean conservative elements” and was arrested in October.

“I was tasked with taking photos of military secrets and scandalous scenes,” Kim said.

The U.S. embassy in Seoul said it was aware of the report but did not have further comment. If confirmed, Kim would be the first American to be detained since the North released three U.S. citizens in 2014.

He said he had moved to the Chinese city of Yanji near the border with North Korea and worked in the North Korean city of Rason in a trading business, when a number of South Koreans approached him

“They asked me to help destroy the (North’s) system and spread propaganda against the government,” he said. He was being held at a Pyongyang hotel and was in good health, CNN said.

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In this undated image made from KRT video, North Korea’s new young leader Kim Jong Un rides a horse at an undisclosed place in North Korea, aired Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012. (AP Photo/KRT via APTN)

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In this undated image made from KRT video, North Korea’s new young leader Kim Jong Un rides a horse at an undisclosed place in North Korea, aired Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012. (AP Photo/KRT via APTN)
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In this undated image made from KRT video, North Korea’s new young leader Kim Jong Un appears from a military vehicle at an undisclosed place in North Korea, aired Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012. Kim Jong Un, who was named “supreme leader” of North Korea’s people, ruling Workers’ Party and military following the death last month of his father, Kim Jong Il, was shown observing firing exercises and posing for photographs with soldiers in footage that was shot before his father’s death and aired as a documentary Sunday. (AP Photo/KRT via APTN)
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In this Oct. 10, 2010 file photo Kim Jong Un, right, along with his father and North Korea leader Kim Jong Il, left, attends a massive military parade marking the 65th anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party in Pyongyang, North Korea. (AP Photo/Kyodo News, File)
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North Korea’s next leader, Kim Jong Un, front center, salutes beside the hearse carrying the body of his late father and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during the funeral procession in Pyongyang, North Korea Wednesday Dec. 28, 2011. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)
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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks to tens of thousands before a mass military parade in Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square to celebrate 100 years since the birth of the late North Korean founder Kim Il Sung on Sunday, April 15, 2012. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrives for the unveiling ceremony for statues of late leaders Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung on Mansudae in Pyongyang, North Korea, Friday, April 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
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In this undated file photo released by the Korean Central News Agency and distributed in Tokyo by the Korea News Service, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, third from right, looks at food items as he inspects a military unit at an undisclosed location in North Korea. (AP Photo/KCNA via KNS, File)
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