Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Visit for U.S. Journalists Imprisoned by North Korea

The Swedish ambassador met today with Euna Lee and Laura Ling, the two imprisoned American journalists in Pyongyang, their first visit with him since a North Korean court handed down their 12-year sentence.

He last visited them June 1. The ambassador has requested more access to the journalists, but has not received it. (The Swedish ambassador represents U.S. interests in the country because the United States does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea.)

A veteran Asia correspondent, Bradley K. Martin, offers this opinion:

Two California senators have called upon President Obama to send a special envoy to secure the release of their constituents Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who are being held by North Korea and sentenced to 12 years for intruding illegally in order to film what the country’s official news agency termed a “slanderous” expose of the trafficking of women.

What would a special envoy offer in return for the women’s release? Money is one thing that North Korea, with its wrecked economy, would likely demand. The United Nations Security Council has just agreed — following Washington’s leadership — to choke off sources of funding.

Perhaps it is useful first to contemplate the extent to which the two journalists might have brought this situation on themselves. Start with the fact that we are not hearing denials from the women’s family and supporters that they illegally intruded into North Korea, crossing a frozen border river. Rather, we’re hearing apologies for any inadvertent offense the two might have committed.

Assuming the North Korean authorities were able to use the women’s captured notes, their testimony and the contents of their camera and cell phones to identify opponents of the regime who had helped the reporters on the Chinese side of the river, those helpers could now be in grave peril from North Korean agents who are tasked with hunting them down. That’s the sort of thing conscientious journalists would not like to have on their consciences.

We will hear protests that the two, besides being fearless, were simply naive. While that may be true of one of them, Lee, who reportedly was on her first overseas assignment, Laura Ling, the Current TV vice president in charge of organizing coverage of dangerous places, should have had ample warning of the risks of sneaking into North Korea — risks not only to herself but to others.

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