Newswatch | Newswatch

You are here

North Korea convicts US journalists for 'grave crime', sends them to 12 years in prison

North Korea convicts US journalists for 'grave crime', sends them to 12 years in prison
A woman holds a candle during a vigil for TV journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee in Washington. Two US women journalists will go on trial in North Korea on charges that could send them to a labour camp for years.

North Korea's top court convicted two American journalists and sentenced them to 12 years in a prison Monday, intensifying the communist nation's confrontation with the United States. The sentencing came amid soaring tensions fueled by the North's latest nuclear and missile tests.

The Central Court tried American TV reporters Laura Ling and Euna Lee and confirmed their unspecified "grave crime" against the nation, and of illegally crossing into North Korea, the Associated Press (AP) reported quoting Korean Central News Agency. It said the court — which tried the women from June 4 to 8 — "sentenced each of them to 12 years of reform through labour." The report gave no other details.

Arrested on 17 March 2009, Ling and Lee were initially accused of “hostile activities” as well as entering the country illegally. 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. Their guide is being held by the Chinese authorities. Ling is of Chinese origin and Lee is of Korean origin.

The AP reported: [Link]

The circumstances surrounding the trial of the two journalists and their arrest three months ago on the China-North Korean border have been shrouded in secrecy, as is typical of the reclusive nation.

The women cannot appeal as they were tried in North Korea's highest court where decisions are final. The sentences are much harsher than what many observers had hoped for. The trial was not open to the public or to foreign observers.

There were fears that the two women would be used by Pyongyang as bargaining chips in its standoff with South Korea and the United States, which are pushing for UN sanctions to punish the nation for its latest nuclear blast and barrage of missile tests.

The journalists — working for former Vice President Al Gore's California-based Current TV — were arrested March 17 as they were reporting about the trafficking of women. It's unclear if they strayed into the North or were grabbed by aggressive border guards who crossed into China. Gore spokeswoman Kalee Kreider did not have an immediate response to the sentencing.

"Euna Lee and Laura Ling are journalists who were doing their jobs reporting on an important humanitarian story. It is deplorable that they have been tried as criminals and sentenced so harshly," said Bob Dietz, Asia programme coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). "We fear that their detention is linked to the ongoing security situation on the Korean Peninsula and we call on all parties to the Six Party Talks— North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, and the United States— to work together for their release."

“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.”

"We are deeply concerned by the reported sentencing of the two American citizen journalists by North Korean authorities, and we are engaged through all possible channels to secure their release," US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said in a statement.

A Los Angeles Times report said: [Link]

Japanese television has reported that Current TV founder Al Gore was prepared to fly to Pyongyang and secure the women's freedom, depending on the outcome of the trial. It was not known how the guilty verdict might have affected those plans.

Initially, Current TV and the families tried to keep the arrests quiet, hoping that behind the scenes negotiations would avoid turning it into a diplomatic incident. But North Korea's intransigence prompted them to go public along the lines of supporters of the journalist Roxana Saberi, who was released by Iran last month. They have made a number of recent appearances on television and held a candlelight vigil Wednesday to pray for their release.

Date posted: June 8, 2009 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 239