Laura Ling and Euna Lee
After Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, who was recently detained for three months in Iran, it is now Laura Ling and Euna Lee who are jailed, this time in North Korea, convicted of a grave crime against the nation, for illegally crossing into North Korea, and sentenced to 12 years in labor prison. These two American (Chinese and Korean origin) television journalists Ling, 32, and Lee, 36, were arrested March 17 along the China-North Korean border after top officials in Pyongyang said they had encroached on North Korean soil while reporting a story on human trafficking by Kim Jong Il's regime.
After their arrest, Ling and Lee were initially accused of "hostile activities". The two journalists, who work for the California-based web television station Current TV, had approached the border from inside China in order to cover the trafficking of North Korean women across the border, a dangerous border as one can testify with heavily armed armed DPRK soldiers, "including Dragunov Russian rifles equipped snipers", according to reporters from Tokyo.
The sentence to 12 years of hard labor increased mounting tensions between the foreign community and the reclusive Asian state. Laura Ling and Euna Lee were sentenced by the top Central Court in Pyongyang as U.S. officials demanded the release of the two women.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency reported that the court "sentenced each of them to 12 years of reform through labor" but gave no further details and because the pair were tried by the nation's highest court, we are told that there can be no appeal. Ling's sister, Lisa Ling, said: "I will say with absolute certainty that, when they left US soil, they never intended to cross the border into North Korea. If at any point they did, we are truly sorry and we know the girls are too."
Their guide is being held by the Chinese authorities.
Reporters Without Borders
Reporters Without Borders is appalled by the sentences of 12 years of "reform through labour" which a North Korean court passed today on American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee after convicting them in a sham trial of an unspecified "grave crime" and illegally entering the country.
"These 12-year sentences are a terrible shock for all those who have repeatedly insisted on their innocence," Reporters Without Borders said. "The sentences are much more severe than anything we had imagined. The authorities in Pyongyang must urgently reverse this decision and allow Ling and Lee to rejoin their families."
The sentences were clearly designed to scare journalists trying to do investigative reporting in the border area between China and North Korea, which is ranked as Asia's worst country in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. To access Reporters sans Frontieres comments click here
Crossing a border without being invited is a natural methodology act for investigative journalists. I did it several times especially in S.E. Asia (Cambodia, Laos, Burma). It is at such dangerous price that facts and truth can be discovered by journalists from secretive or war states where brutality is a method to rule, oppress, jail and murder their people turned preys.
Quotes: "Human rights groups, basing their estimates on defector testimonies, believe that about 200,000 prisoners are in North Koreas gulag system. Many are family members imprisoned for the crimes of their relatives, especially when the crimes are political." (The W. Times)
Current TV founder is former USA Vice President Al Gore. At this point, commentators speculate it is unlikely the two will serve time in a gulag. Instead Euna Lee and Laura Ling were expected to become negotiating pawns as the North tests the Obama administration by steadily escalating tensions with the United States.
North Korea just said it banned vessels from traveling in a designated area off its northeast shore between Wednesday and June 30, raising speculation that another rocket missile is to be launched adding to the destabilization of North East Asia.
☞ The interesting thing I see here is about the never ending DPRK own contradictions: I know of some foreign journalists and photographs who have been arrested in the past in North Korea while crossing the PRC - DPRK border, and were, later on, freed with apology and, even more amazing, were invited by North Korean officials to stay in the country for their reports. No arrest and no jail then at that time. So, one question: Were the two reporters blackmailed, manipulated or kidnaped after treacherous plan? And what about the allegations that there were 4 journalists actually trying to report on the border. Where are the two others?
Kidnapping is a trend in secretive North Korea. In 2002, Pyongyang admitted that it had systematically kidnapped Japanese citizens in the 1970s and '80s, using them to train its spies, who were then filtered back into Japan. It kidnapped hundreds of South Koreans over the years.
Quotes: "But it's not always some twisted policy goal that drives Pyongyang to kidnapping; Kim has also resorted to abduction to satisfy his personal whims. The North Korean dictator has long had a passion for movies, but he evidently believed North Korea's cinema wasn't up to his standards. In the late '70s, when his father Kim Il Sung was running the country, Kim apparently ordered the abduction of Shin Sang-ok, then perhaps the most famous film producer in the South, and his wife, Choi Eun-hee, a famous actress. Shin was imprisoned for four years, then forced to make a socialist-friendly version of Godzilla. He and his wife eventually escaped during a business trip to Vienna in 1986. Shin died in 2006 at age 80." (Time magazine)
Quotes from agencies, Time, W Times, RSF, Diary.