Bloggers Join Call for Release of Journalists Imprisoned by North Korea
On Monday, in a closed trial, the a North Korean court convicted two American journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, of "grave crimes" of an unspecified nature and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor. The women have been detained since March 17 as they worked on a story for Current TV about Chinese refugees in North Korea. The Women's Space blog says the women were actually investigating sex trafficking. Bitten and Bound said they were reporting on defectors living along the border between North Korea and China.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters yesterday that the US government continues to work through the Swedish Embassy to negotiate the two women's release:
Obviously, we are deeply concerned about the length of the sentences and the fact that this trial was conducted totally in secret with no observers. And we're engaged in all possible ways through every possible channel to secure their release.
According to a story posted to the website of the Asian American Journalists Association, Swedish officials have had two visits with the Lee and Ling, and have been able to carry letters from the women to their families. Clinton refused to respond to questions about whether Current TV founder and former Vice President Al Gore is involved in the negotiations.
However, the New York Times has a blog post quoting Gore as saying that Gore is deeply involved. The post also notes that Current TV has no references to the two women's imprisonment.
Laura's sister, a well-known journalist in her own right, was quoted in
the New York Times as saying the families have been quiet because of
the delicacy of the negotiations, but that she would speak out soon.
According to a story in the San Jose Mercury News, as the managing editor of Current TV's Vanguard investigative division, Ling routinely reports from dangerous places. Most recently, she had gone to Mexico to cover the violent drug gangs there. Ling's page on the Current.tv website has links to that package of stories and others, along with this statement:
"We’re trying to provide knowledge and
context about what’s happening in our world as opposed to just covering
random news events."
Tennessee Guerilla Women points to an Amnesty International report on conditions in North Korea's prisons that says that beatings and starvation are common occurences.
Expressions of support and concern for the two women are pouring in from around the world. One particularly powerful message came from Roxana Saberi, the Iranian-American journalist freed last month from an Iranian prison after four months in detention. Saberi told the Committee to Protect Journalists what she imagined Lee and Ling are going through, and what she would say to encourage them, if she could:
"Perhaps you are stronger than I was during the early days of my detainment, when I felt scared, weak, and alone. Over time, I learned several lessons, which you may already know well. In any case, I would like to share them with you: Try to turn the challenges you are facing into opportunities. Do not fear but love, have hope and courage, and stand up for what you believe in. No one can hurt your soul. You are not alone. You have a whole world of supporters who are rallying and praying for you. "
Chicago Tribune blogger Lynne Sweet posted a statement from the Journalism and Women's Symposium that reads, in part:
"JAWS implores Secretary of State Clinton, the U.S. State Department and all diplomatic parties to step up efforts to secure the release of Lee and Ling and separate this case of journalists, doing their jobs, from continuing geopolitical issues suffusing the region in recent weeks. It calls upon the North Korean government to reconsider this severe sentence given for "hostile acts" still unspecified and allow the journalists to be returned to their families, from whom they have been separated for nearly three months."
In additon to its statement of condemnation, the Asian American Journalists Association posted video of a vigil held in San Franciscon on behalf of Lee and Ling.
Meanwhile, Ann at Feministing has links to an online petition, twitter account and facebook group in support of Lee and Ling.While noting that some experts expect that North Korea is using the women as a bargaining chip in its effort to extract concessions from regional and international power brokers, such as the United States, Ann insists, "[W]e should still keep the pressure on."