June 8, 2009

South Korean protesters hold up photos of U.S. journalists Laura Ling, left, and Euna Lee. (Lee Jin-man/Courtesy The Associated Press)

12-Year Sentence for U.S. Journalists in North Korea

Two American journalists held in North Korea since March 17 were sentenced June 8 to 12 years each in a labor camp.

Euna Lee and Laura Ling, reporters for San Francisco-based Current TV, were pursuing a story about refugees fleeing North Korea when they were arrested near the border with China. They were convicted of "grave crimes" and entering North Korea illegally, though some reports said they were arrested in China.

The sentence was the latest provocative move by North Korea, which in the past two months has launched a long-range missile, tested an underground nuclear bomb and rejected the agreement that ended the Korean War.

The White House expressed deep concern about the sentencing. "We are engaged through all possible channels" to secure their release, said White House spokesman Bill Burton.

North Korea is in the midst of a leadership change as leader Kim Jong Il is believed to be ailing.

The five-day trial was held in North Korea’s highest court in the capital of Pyongyang — an indication that no appeal is permitted. Outsiders were barred from attending.

The Committee to Protect Journalists called the sentences "deplorable."

"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," said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator.

Last week, Lisa Ling, a journalist who is the sister of prisoner Laura Ling, reached out to the North Korean government.

"If at any point the girls went into North Korea, then we apologize on their behalf," Ling said.

The jailed women have spoken with their families. Ling said her sister was "very scared," though both women said they had been treated "fairly."

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