Two U.S. journalists detained in North Korea were to go on trial at 3 p.m. (6 a.m. GMT) Thursday, according to North Korean state-run news agency KCNA.
The journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, were reporting on the plight of North Korean defectors living along the China-North Korea border when they were taken into custody on March 17. They are reporters for California-based Current TV, the media venture of former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. North Korea has charged the reporters with illegal entry into the country and hostile acts. The woman could face years in labor camps if convicted. The families of the journalists broke months of silence this week, making public pleas for their release. Watch family members discuss the case » Contact with the women has been extremely limited. The Swedish ambassador to North Korea was allowed to see the two journalists Monday, according to the U.S. State Department. Sweden represents the United States in North Korea, because the two countries, which fought on opposite sides during the three-year Korean war in the 1950s, do not have diplomatic relations. The ambassador also met separately with the two journalists on March 30 and May 15. Despite the limited communication, the families say they’ve heard enough to know the women are “terrified” and “extremely scared.”
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“Our families have been quiet because the situation is very sensitive and we’ve been really trying to allow diplomacy to take its course,” Lisa Ling, Laura’s sister, said on CNN’s “Larry King Live” on Monday night. “But you know, you’d have to be hiding under a rock not to see what’s going on in the Korean Peninsula. “I mean tensions are so heated,” she continued, “and the girls are essentially in the midst of this nuclear standoff.” Watch Lisa Ling and other family members discuss the journalists’ detention » Late last month, North Korea conducted nuclear and missile tests, drawing the condemnation of the U.N. Security Council. “We just felt like it was time for us to talk publicly and try and encourage our two governments to try to communicate, to try and bring our situation to a resolution on humanitarian grounds — to separate the issues,” said Ling, who is a special correspondent with CNN. Contact with the women has been extremely limited. The Swedish ambassador to North Korea was allowed to see the two journalists Monday, according to the U.S. State Department. Sweden represents the United States in North Korea because the two countries, which fought on opposite sides during the three-year Korean war in the 1950s, do not have diplomatic relations. The ambassador also met separately with the two journalists on March 30 and May 15. “While I am trying to remain hopeful, each day becomes harder and harder to bear,” Ling wrote in the letter that her husband, Iain Clayton, read on “Larry King Live.” “I am so lonely and scared. But baby, thinking of you gives me strength. You know I can feel you here with me.” The mounting movement to free the women is reminiscent of the one waged for Roxana Saberi, an American journalist released by Iran last month after originally being sentenced to eight years in prison for espionage. Lisa Ling made a direct on-air appeal to North Korea in an effort to win the release of her sister and Lee.
“We don’t know the details of what happened on March 17th, but if at any point the girls went into North Korea, then we apologize on their behalf,” Ling said. “They never intended to do so.” “We beg your government to allow (them) to come home.”