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Update on Laura Ling and Euna Lee

August 3, 2009

We posted last month on Laura Ling and Euna Lee, American journalists who were arrested on March 17 by North Korean forces while filming refugees on the China/North Korea border and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor. The families of both women have stated that they worry that this era of the 24-hour news cycle, their story will fade and the urgency of the situation forgotten. So – while the tight-lipped North Korean media has offered little to report in terms of concrete developments – we bring you an update on their situation and some reactions to their imprisonment:

*A few days after their arrest, North Korean officials announced that Ling and Lee had confessed to a “politically motivated smear campaign” against the communist regime. No one knows, however, the circumstances surrounding the confession, or whether it happened at all.

*On July 10, Secrety of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made a statement to North Korean officials, asking that the two be granted amnesty and returned home. Later, she commented to ABC News that North Korea’s leadership of late has behaved like “teenagers demanding attention.” An unnamed North Korean official quoted by the state-run KCNA news agency fired, bacl, calling Clinton unintelligent and “funny.” The war of words seems to have gotten Ling and Lee nowhere.

*On July 29, reportadly fed up that US State Department efforts seemed to be making little progress, UN chief Ban Ki Moon said that he has “taken [his] own initiative to free the journalists,though he refused to discuss details.

*On July 28 Mallika Chopra, a friend of Lee (and daughter of Deepak Chopra) posted a blog entry on the website Intent, stating that based on “press accounts, briefings by the US State Department and his limited correspondences with Euna in the last 4 months, Michael [Sladate, Euna Lee’s husband] believes that Euna and Laura are currently being held in a Medical Detention Facility … Michael is confident that his wife and Laura are being treated “fairly,” and have not been transported to the infamous North Korean labor camps as their sentence deems.”

*Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times offers his insight about the experience of reporting in the region, and posits a (generally hopeful) theory about the circumstances of their arrest and what will happen from here. Disturbingly, however, Kristof thinks that “Ling and Lee may have been sold to North Korea by a local guide. If the guide said that it was safe to cross, or that they were still on Chinese territory, they would have believed him … at a time of crisis, when it is undergoing a leadership transition and a confrontation with the West, North Korea would probably pay well for a few extra bargaining chips in the form of American journalists.”

*And, most importantly, an updated link (the previous one crashed) to the petition to free Ling and Lee.

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