Two US Journalists Sentenced To 12 Years Hard Labor In North Korea

Kangaroo court

Outrageous news out of North Korea today. Two US journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling (sister of fellow journalist Lisa Ling), who were arrested in March by the North Korean government for allegedly crossing over into their territory (while reporting on human trafficking for Current TV), were sentenced to 12 years in a labor camp for their alleged crimes. Because North Korea does not feel the need to allow outsiders to have any information about their dealings, very little information about the trial (which lasted only 4 days) is known … what is known is that the women have been sentenced to 12 years of hard labor in a prison camp and have no course of appeal. Without outside intervention, the women are doomed to their sentence:

North Korea convicted two American journalists and sentenced them Monday to 12 years of hard labor for crossing into its territory, intensifying the reclusive nation’s confrontation with the United States. The Obama administration said it would pursue ”all possible channels” to win the release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, reporters for former Vice President Al Gore’s San Francisco-based Current TV media venture. There are fears Pyongyang is using the women as bargaining chips as the U.N. debates a new resolution to punish the country for its defiant May 25 atomic test and as North Korea seeks to draw Washington into direct negotiations. Washington’s former U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson called the sentencing part of ”a high-stakes poker game” being played by North Korea. He said on NBC’s Today show that he thinks negotiations for their ”humanitarian release” can begin now that the legal process has been completed. Other South Korean analysts also said they expect the two to be freed following negotiations. The journalists were found guilty of committing a ”grave crime” against North Korea and of illegally entering the country, North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency said. North Korean guards arrested Ling and Lee near the China-North Korean border on March 17. The two were reporting about the trafficking of North Korean women at the time of their arrest, and it’s unclear if they strayed into the North or were grabbed by aggressive border guards who crossed into China. A cameraman and their local guide escaped. The Central Court in Pyongyang sentenced each to 12 years of ”reform through labor” in a North Korean prison after a five-day trial, KCNA said in a terse, two-line report that provided no further details. A Korean-language version said they were convicted of ”hostility toward the Korean people.” The ruling — nearly three months after their arrest on March 17 — comes amid soaring tensions fueled by North Korea’s nuclear test last month and signs it is preparing for a long-range missile test. On Monday, North Korea warned fishing boats to stay away from the east coast, Japan’s coast guard said, raising concerns more missile tests are being planned … Verdicts issued by North Korea’s highest court are final and cannot be appealed, said Choi Eun-suk, a North Korean law expert at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at South Korea’s Kyungnam University. He said North Korea’s penal code calls for transferring them to prison within 10 days. The United States, which does not have diplomatic ties with Pyongyang, was ”deeply concerned” about the reported verdict, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said in Washington. He said officials would ”engage in all possible channels” to win the reporters’ release. At the White House on Monday, deputy spokesman William Burton said in a statement: ”The president is 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.”

This sentence is ghastly and is clearly only being used for political gain by North Korea. It is absolutely a terrifying prospect to spend 12 years in any prison, let alone a labor camp in the very clandestine North Korea. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Lee and Ling families. It is my sincere hope that something can be done on the part of our government or perhaps one of the Asian governments (China, Japan) in the area to extricate these journalists. If these women are not retrieved before they are sent to the camps, we may never see or hear from either of the again.


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  1. ashley

    I hope they will get out safely and not working in labor camp for twelve years. I hope our government or one of the Asian’s government can save them and return them to their family.

  2. jeremiah

    You’ve got a picture of Lisa published, not Laura. In the end, they will be released. NK is using them as bargaining chips. Time to get to work, Sec. Clinton!

  3. Ana S.

    Yeah that Lisa Ling.

  4. jjj

    The sad thing is that things like this happen everyday without even half as much publicity. These girls are lucky since their case is getting noticed.

  5. Maya L.

    I lived in North Korea for 15 years (born there). The country is different from the US but peaceful and wonderful, not the barbaric place the US media paints it as. If you don’t want to suffer another country’s punishment, don’t break another country’s laws.

  6. Alicia

    @Maya L. you’re full of it. you weren’t born there. I’m calling your bluff.

  7. Kendra

    @Maya – 12 years in a labor camp for supposedly crossing the border?? You think that’s the right punishment? Personally, I think it’s total bullshizz..I feel so sick just thinking about what these girls must be going through..

  8. Joseph

    How do you think the US would have reacted if two North Koreans snuck across the border into US soil? Bottom line is that they broke NK law and are being tried under their rules. We, US, can’t get immunity from all other countries law just cause we feel like it. This sucks and is a tragedy, but those women are subject to their laws.

    • @Joseph — I think the US deports anyone who illegally crosses their borders. It is utterly ridiculous to contend that 12 years in a prison camp is suitable punishment for this crime … which was tried in complete secrecy. Kangaroo Court if I ever heard of one.

  9. Cara

    Thanks for blogging about this. Here’s a link to information for those that want to do more:

  10. Katie


  11. Karly

    If they escaped N. Korea would they have to be brought back to do their time or couldn’t they just like not?

  12. How horrible! I pray that these women are released.

  13. Jake

    They should of just been deported NK knew this would get the West angry and no doubt will be launching a propaganda campaign against the US using these two women.

  14. Ally

    Joseph — That’s crazy. Unless you are a suspected terrorist, the US will be putting you on the first plane (or bus) back to your country of origine.

    My brother is in South Korea for work right now and I just really want him home… I know it isn’t the same between the two countries, but it is just too close for my comfort.

  15. CHASE

    The only reason why they got 12 years sentencing is, in fact, because they’re U.S. citizens. That’s the only reason why. I believe North Korea is making this a bigger issue than it is because of bias opinions and political power. They didn’t like how the U.S. were being “nosy” about all their missal bull crap… it isn’t justice, only a statement.

  16. Jami

    Laura Ling has to be one of my favorite journalists from the usual Current Vanguard podcasts. If I’m not mistaken, a special on the labor camps in North Korea has already been broadcasted in the past. 12 years is extensive- it’s not like they were smuggling substances into or from the nation. There must be an intervention of some sort.

  17. Denise

    I think Chase is entirely correct. North Korea is making a statement to the US concerning the launch of the North Korean missiles in May. 12 years, is what, the highest penalty in North Korean courts? It’s ludicrous to believe that they were judged only on their purported “crime” and their US citizenship had nothing to do with it at this time when relations are so strained. Hopefully as this article indicates negotiations can take place and we can get those women out of there.

  18. Tracy

    North Korea is fucking disgusting. They are animals.

  19. the mole

    @Ally – There’s no need to worry about your brother. South Korea is a safe country, probably even safer than the States.

    @Tracy – Do you mean that the president of North Korea and his army are disgusting? I hope you’re not claiming that every single North Korean is “disgusting”.

  20. incubi

    Trent, no matter what the sentence is in the US, don’t forget they are on foreign soil. and if you’re a guest in someones house, you need to play by their rules. Not saying that the NK goverment or ruling is just, but especially seeying these ladies were there professionally they ought to know the rules of the game. i could understand if there were naive toerist getting lost or what not.. but by going there on report, snooping around in a communist closed regime, you know the risks involved by putting yourself on the line. just because they have cute little faces and/or are american doesn’t mean they don’t have to respect the law. used for political gain or not.
    i wonder how many people calling NK ridiculous, ‘animals’ (really?), etc are crying the loudest about closing your own borders for illegal crossing immigrants? or how about the people in gitmo, posing as a security treat to the US? is that not the same or worse? and wasn’t the punishment in the US for espionage capital punishment of life in prison not so long ago? (or stil, maybe?). excuse the spelling.

  21. Hannah

    I agree with the sentiment that if you are in another countries land you have to play by their rules. But this is hardly the case. They did not go into North Korea and start a murder spree or encourage riots or anything bad. The article even says they don’t know if they actually wandered over. Most countries will kick people out if they don’t want you there. They deport you, not stick you into a labor camp. Who knows what conditions they will have and how long they will live. If they did do something wrong N Korea should be open with the United States and not have made their trial so secretive.

  22. tatiana

    God this is so horrible. Everyone pray for these women and their safe return. :(

  23. amy

    I’m going to post something that I know people won’t be happy about… but hear it goes:

    While I completely disagree with NK’s ruling and think their government is absolutely corrupt and despicable, I think it was also irresponsible for the two journalists to cross the border (or even go near the border without knowing the exact borderlines). Would NK have tested their nuclear weapons if they didn’t capture these two? Maybe. Maybe not. At the end of the day, even if my career is more important than my life, I wouldn’t jeopardize my country’s – and even the world’s – diplomacy and safety by venturing out to the border like that.

  24. Razz

    that’s lisa ling’s sister. i’m pretty sure lisa ling’s NCG program inside North Korea had something to do with the prison sentence, she portrayed NK as a very mind-controlled, fear ladened country.

    that doesn’t bode well, i suppose.

  25. Kate

    I get where incubi and amy’s coming from. They’re just being diplomatic in their comment. Hopefully people will see where they’re coming from, rather than immediately, ignorantly assume she’s rooting for NK and their shameful actions. My guess is, probably not.

    My thing how ever is.. as a South Korean, I HATE how we get grouped in with North Korea sometimes. I also hate when people, in reponse to my being Korean, and when I specify that I’m from the South, the question is: ‘is that the normal one or the crazy one?’, and their faces always change from a cautious, suspicious one to a relaxed one when I (dryly) reply ‘the normal one’. I mean, sure I’m not fan of the North’s actions, policies etc either, but at least get your international knowledge right.

    And I guess what prompted me to comment is that even in this entry, Trent had said “…perhaps one of the Asian governments (China, Japan) in the area…” as if South Korea isn’t a separate Asian government on its own from the strict, somewhat unrealistic North Korea. That we just get lumped together. And I’m SURE someone’s bound to jump up here and say ‘wth, you’re just nitpicking!!’ and I’m 99.99999% sure Trent didn’t mean anything by it when he wrote it: but that’s my point. I sometimes feel like SK automatically, unconsciously gets grouped in as a ‘baddy’ just because 1. NK is ‘evil’ and shares the second half of the name, and historically the entire nation, with us, and 2. people’s ignorance. And you may think I’m nitpicking, but hey, Ally’s comment up there is another example – she’s worried about her brother’s well-being because he’s in South Korea. You may say it’s because they’re joined together, but – and It’s only an assumption, but – I bet if he was in China, which is also joined to NK, she probably wouldn’t have said that or been so worried. I just think it’s ignorant of people to make such a big deal out of political situations, happenings about certain situations without having any basic knowledge to start with.

    You may think I’m nitpicking, but from my side of things, as a Korean from the SOUTH, I’m just a bit tired of non-Koreans, often Europeans, who crack jokes about how I’m gonna blow them up with my nuclear bombs if people piss me off, just because my ethnicity happens to be Korean. Am I being too sensitive? Maybe. But the first couple of times, I didn’t mind dryly laughing it off. But when people keep bringing that sh.t up just to ‘jokingly’ rile me up? The humour starts to wear thin after a while.

  26. kk

    sounds about time for a private op a la Mersk Alabama

  27. Tracy

    Kim Jong Il IS an animal. They torture and starve people whose RELATIVES don’t agree with his policies. Just because they are RELATED to them. How the hell could you justify that in any way shape or form?

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