Thursday, June 4, 2009

US journalists on trial in North Korea

In early April of 2009, North Korea’s state-run news agency reported that two American reporters were detained earlier this month, and will be tried for illegal entry and hostile acts. According to news sources, apparently Current TV reporters Laura Ling and Euna Lee were detained on March 17, 2009, near North Korea's northeastern border with China.

Euna Lee and Laura Ling,(picture above left) reporters for former Vice President Al Gore's San Francisco-based Current TV media venture, were detained by North Korean border guards March 17.

According to Reporters Without Bordres (RWB): The detention of Euna Lee (who is of Korean descent) and Laura Ling (who is of Chinese descent) was confirmed by the North Korean press on 21 March. The fact that the state media reported their arrests suggested the government was directly involved. The South Korean news agency Yonhap quoted an unidentified Chinese source as saying it was probable that the two journalists were taken to Pyongyang for interrogation by North Korean military intelligence. North Korea could try to exploit the arrests politically, the agency said. A source close to the case said the US government has begun negotiations with the North Korean government with a view to obtaining their release (RWB, 2009).

Although several blogs are carrying this report, there is a detailed version of what occurred and possible consequence at the blog “As in the days of Noah.” An excerpt from this blog follows: "The Korean Central News Agency report did not say when a trial might take place, but said preparations to indict the Americans were under way as the investigation continues."The illegal entry of U.S. reporters into the DPRK and their suspected hostile acts have been confirmed by evidence and their statements," the report said, referring to the country by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.The report did not elaborate on what "hostile acts" the journalists allegedly committed. Euna Lee and Laura Ling,(picture above left) reporters for former Vice President Al Gore's San Francisco-based Current TV media venture, were detained by North Korean border guards March 17. Their Korean-Chinese guide and a third American, Current TV cameraman Mitch Koss, reportedly escaped arrest but were detained by Chinese border guards. Koss since has left the country, China's Foreign Ministry said last Tuesday."

Further, the same blog reads, "An activist who helped the team plan their trip to China, the Rev. Chun Ki-won, said the three were on a reporting trip to interview North Korean defectors living in border areas at the time. He said he last spoke to Lee by phone early March 17 when they were near the Tumen River dividing the two countries.North Korea confirmed in a brief March 21 dispatch on KCNA that two Americans had been detained and were being investigated for "illegally intruding" from China. A report in South Korea's JoongAng Ilbo newspaper said the two were undergoing "intense interrogation" at a military guesthouse in Pyongyang's outskirts for illegal entry and alleged espionage.Conviction on charges of spying and illegally crossing the border could draw more than 20 years in prison for each under North Korea's criminal code."

However, there are blogs also taking a different slant on this tragedy. For instance, some blog are focusing on the association with former vice-president Al Gore, rather than the tragedy of these reporters being detained, then possibly being found guilty, and subsequently receiving a prison sentence of up to 20 years. These controversial blogs elected, instead, to attempt to project an image of Gore as presenting a hands-off approach to the dilemma that these reporters now find themselves facing. For instance, one blog reads: “All you young liberals out there who stand by professors who get you to go out and protest while they watch you get arrested from the sidewalks, here's another example of young people being hung out to dry by progressive oldheads… The two work for former Vice President Al Gore's San Francisco-based online media venture Current TV” (Black&White, 2009).

In fairness to Gore, what is meant to be implied by this blog, and other similar blogs, denies the reality of the present crisis of North Korean-US relations. For this reason, the aforesaid blog, as equally true of other similar blogs, fails to consider that Gore’s inaction, if any, is undoubtedly due to the wisdom of following the lead of the state department in this crisis. It is hardly reasonable to suspect that Al Gore or any other US citizen could eventually address this problem alone, that is, without the assistance of the US government or its Department of State. In this respect, at a time of trouble for these journalists, and the drama that their families are suffering, such comments are totally inappropriate; perhaps even lacking in much-needed compassion.

The detention of these American citizens is not a partisan issue, or Democrat versus Republican; it is simply an issue of an American citizen in dire need of assistance from the US government and support from other US citizens.

As recently reported by the Associated Press (Lee, 2009), in Seoul, South Korea the two American journalists faced trial Thursday (June 4, 2009) in North Korea on accusations of illegal entry and "hostile acts" in a case that could send them to a labor camp for 10 years. Back home, their families pleaded for leniency. Laura Ling and Euna Lee, reporters for former Vice President Al Gore's California-based Current TV media venture, were arrested March 17 near the North Korean border while on a reporting trip to China (Lee, 2009).

North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency said in a brief dispatch earlier Thursday that the trial was to have begun at 3 p.m. (0600 GMT; 2 a.m. EDT) in Pyongyang's Central Court. There was no immediate word on the status of the proceedings. The trial was taking place at a time of mounting tensions on the Korean peninsula following the regime's provocative nuclear test last week.
As discussions continued at the United Nations and in Washington on how to punish the regime for its defiance, there were fears the women could become political pawns in any negotiations North Korea undertakes.

Analyst Choi Eun-suk, a professor of North Korean law at Kyungnam University, said the court could convict and sentence the women to labor, and then use them as bargaining chips in negotiations with the U.S. "The North is likely to release and deport them to the U.S. — if negotiations with the U.S. go well," Choi said. North Korea and the U.S., former Korean War foes, do not have diplomatic relations, and analysts called Pyongyang's recent belligerence a bid to grab President Barack Obama's attention. Pyongyang "believes the Obama administration has not made North Korea a priority," said David Straub of Stanford University's Korean studies program.

Back home, the reporters' families pleaded for clemency. "All we can do is hope the North Korean government will show leniency," Ling's sister, TV journalist Lisa Ling, said in an emotional plea at a California vigil Wednesday night. "If at any point they committed a transgression, then our families are deeply, deeply sorry. We know the girls are sorry as well." She urged Washington and Pyongyang not to let politics dictate the reporters' fate. "Tensions are so heated, and the girls are essentially in the midst of this nuclear standoff," she said on CNN's "Larry King Live." Ling urged the governments to "try to communicate, to try and bring our situation to a resolution on humanitarian grounds — to separate the issues" (Lee, 2009).

State-run media have not defined the exact charges against them, but South Korean legal experts said conviction for "hostility" or espionage could mean five to 10 years in a labor camp. Choi said a ruling by the top court would be final. The circumstances of their arrest were hazy. The Current TV team had gone to the Chinese border city of Yanji to report on the trafficking of North Korean women, Lisa Ling said. "Too many sad stories," her younger sister posted to Twitter days before her arrest.

They were seized somewhere near the frozen Tumen River dividing North Korea and China while a cameraman and their guide managed to evade the North Korean guards. For weeks, there was little word about their well-being in separate quarters in one of the world's most isolated nations. Sweden's ambassador to North Korea has paid the women three visits each and brought back a letter from Laura Ling saying she "cried so much" at first but was biding her time with stretches and meditation. Lisa Ling said she got a surprise phone call last Tuesday from her "extremely scared" younger sister, asking for help. "My sister said that the only hope that she and Euna had to get released was if our government and North Korea's communicated directly," Lisa Ling said. "'I know that you've been trying to get other countries involved,' she said, 'but our only hope is if our countries talk.'"

The State Department has not divulged details about any negotiations for their freedom. "We continue to consult with the families. And there is no higher priority that we have than protection of American civilians abroad," spokesman P.J. Crowley said Wednesday in Washington. "And we, again, hope that North Korea will forgo this legal process and return them to the United States." In New York, dozens turned out in a drenching rain for a vigil led by Ling's cousin Angie Wang. Some held yellow chrysanthemums. "Nobody should be holding people for purely political gamesmanship purposes," said J.B. Miller, 44. Media groups also pressed for their release. "We urge that their fate not be linked to the ongoing security situation on the Korean Peninsula," Bob Dietz of the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement. "Euna Lee and Laura Ling were acting as journalists, not criminals, and should be released."

Roxana Saberi, an American journalist who spent four months in an Iranian prison before being released May 11 on a suspended sentence for spying, urged the women to "remain strong."

"If Laura and Euna's situation resembles anything like mine, I can imagine a little of what they might be wishing for: The presumption of innocence until proven guilty. A fair trial, with access to attorneys of their choice and the right to study what is claimed as evidence against them. More contact with their families, whom they probably worry are worrying about themselves!" (Lee, 2009).


Two US journalist transferred to Pyongyang for questioning, March 23, 2009, Reporters Without Borders.

North Korea will try 2 American Journalilsts for 'Hostile Act', March 31, 2002, "As in the Days of Hoah blog.

Where's The Boss While Current Journalists to Stand Trial?, March 30, 2009, Black&

Jean H. Lee, 2 US journalists on trial in North Korea, June 4, 2009, AP.

No comments:

Post a Comment