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American Journalists Ling and Lee Get Twelve Years Hard Labor in North Korea

June 8, 2009

American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee have been sentenced to twelve years in a North Korean labor camp, the Korean government has just announced. Ling and Lee were arrested in March while shooting footage of refugees on the border of China and North Korea. They were filming in China but allegedly crossed into North Korean territory when they were detained. The refugees Ling and Lee were covering had fled North Korea for China in search of food. According to KCNA, the country’s official news agency, the two women have been convicted of “committing hostilities against the Korean nation and illegal entry” although they have not specified what these “hostilities”entailed.

A statement just released by Reporters Without Borders says “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.”

Many suggest that the two women–Lee, the mother of a four year old daughter, and Ling, who is said to have an ulcer and require medical attention–are merely being used as political pawns as relations between the U.S. and North Korea deteriorate. This sentence comes just one month after the U.S. pushed for UN sanctions against North Korea for testing nuclear weapons.

In two previous incidents in 1994 and 1996 when Americans have been held hostage in North Korea, it took a trip to Pyongyang by then congressman Bill Richardson to leverage the release of the prisoners.

The International Women’s Media Foundation and Reporters Without Borders have launched a petition for the release of the two women. Click here to sign the petition.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.