Monday, June 8, 2009
North Korea convicted two American journalists and sentenced them Monday to 12 years of hard labor. Laura Ling and Euna Lee, reporters for former Vice President Al Gore's San Francisco-based Current TV media venture, were found guilty of committing a "grave crime" against North Korea and of illegally entering the country, state-run media said.The ruling came nearly three months after their arrest. North Korea's penal code calls for transferring them to prison within 10 days.
The United States, which does not have diplomatic ties with Pyongyang, was "deeply concerned" about the reported verdict. North Korean guards arrested Ling and Lee near the China-North Korean border on March 17. The two were reporting about the trafficking of North Korean women at the time of their arrest, and it's unclear if they strayed into the North or were grabbed by aggressive border guards who crossed into China. A cameraman and their local guide escaped.
Lisa Ling, sister to Laura Ling in a blog entry described "the feeling of utter isolation" she experienced during a 2005 trip to North Korea, had pleaded for leniency. She said neither journalist intended to cross into North Korea and her younger sister suffered from an ulcer requiring medical treatment, while Lee was the mother of a 4-year-old, Hannah.
The sentence is "a terrible shock for all those who have repeatedly insisted on their innocence," Reporters Without Borders said in a statement, noting that North Korea is ranked as Asia's worst country for press freedom.
As a journalist and American citizen, I am deeply saddened by this development in this unjust case of two American journalists. What is most disheartening is the fact that our country has strained diplomatic ties with North Korea thus almost guaranteeing that this situation was not handled fairly based on the individuals' criminal intent, but rather as a slap in the face to Pres. Obama and the U.S. government. I fear if they had not been writing about a subject matter that showed the atrocities women and girls face all over the world, the outcomes would have been different. It is high time for the media to rally around these reporters, but even more importantly, the issue of female trafficking for sex and slavery needs to stay in the forefront where it belongs.