Two U.S. journalists detained in North Korea while covering the plight of defectors living along the China-North Korea border have been sentenced to 12 years in labor camps, the country’s state-run media said Monday.
The Central Court of North Korea sentenced Laura Ling and Euna Lee for the “grave crime they committed against the Korean nation and their illegal border crossing,” the Korean Central News Agency said Monday. Ling and Lee were taken into custody March 17. They are reporters for California-based Current TV, a media venture of former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. The idea of sending either Gore or New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to Pyongyang on a mission to get the journalists released has been floated to the North Koreans, senior administration officials told CNN. Observers had been barred from their trial, a U.S. State Department spokesman has said. Ian Kelly told reporters that according to media reports, the trial began Thursday. He said the department was informed by the Swedish ambassador to North Korea that no observers were allowed in the courtroom. 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.
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Kelly called the trial an “opaque procedure.” He said the department was notified that the reporters had a defense attorney but wasn’t given the lawyer’s name. U.S. officials have repeatedly called for the journalists’ release. North Korea charged the reporters with illegal entry into the country, “hostile acts” and spying. Their families broke months of silence this week, making public pleas for their release. “When the girls left the United States, they never intended to cross into North Korean soil. And if they did at any point, we apologize,” Lisa Ling, Laura Ling’s sister, said on “Anderson Cooper 360” on Wednesday. “And we know that they are very, very sorry. And we ask that you show mercy today,” added Lisa Ling, a special correspondent for CNN. Watch family members describe what little they know » Contact with the women has been extremely limited.
The Swedish ambassador was allowed to see the two women last week, according to the U.S. State Department. The ambassador met separately with them 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.” iReport.com: Journalist’s ‘family in pain’ at trial