06/22/2017 07:44 EDT | Updated 06/22/2017 11:31 EDT

Family Of Jailed Canadian Pastor Hyeon Soo Lim Speaks Out After Otto Warmbier's Death

Lim is currently serving a life sentence in North Korea.

The death of an American student who was returned home after being detained for 17 months in North Korea has brought renewed calls for political intervention in the case of a Canadian pastor serving a life sentence in that country.

Hyeon Soo Lim's family has issued a statement expressing condolences to the grieving relatives of Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old student who died in a Cincinnati hospital Monday, roughly a week after being flown back to the U.S. for medical issues.

Lim's relatives say no families should go through such an ordeal, and urge the Canadian government to escalate diplomatic efforts to secure the pastor's release.

Lim, a pastor with the Light Korean Presbyterian Church west of Toronto, was sentenced in late 2015 to life in prison with hard labour by North Korea's Supreme Court for what it called crimes against the state.

South Korea-born Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim stands during his trial at a North Korean court in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang, North Korea on December 16, 2015.

The crimes Lim was charged with included harming the dignity of the supreme leadership, trying to use religion to destroy the North Korean system, disseminating negative propaganda about the North to overseas Koreans and helping U.S. and the South Korean authorities lure and abduct North Korean citizens, along with aiding their programs to assist defectors from the North.

Lim's relatives and colleagues have said he travelled to North Korea on Jan. 31, 2014, as part of a regular humanitarian mission to the country where he supports a nursing home, a nursery and an orphanage.

Pleading for 'active escalation in diplomatic efforts'

They said Lim has made more than 100 trips to North Korea since 1997 and that his trips were about helping people and were not political.

"We strongly urge the Canadian government to place more attention on Reverend Lim's case," they said in Wednesday's statement.

"We are desperate to see our husband and father home, and we are pleading for an active escalation in diplomatic efforts."

A spokeswoman for the family is planning a news conference at the church Thursday.

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