NORTH KOREA: Court sentences U.S. journalists to 12 years of labor

State-run news agency says journalists convicted of "grave crime" and "illegal border crossing"

By Margaretta Soehendro
Managing Editor

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Nearly three months after they were arrested along the China-North Korea border, the Central Court in Pyongyang on Monday sentenced U.S. journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee to 12 years of imprisonment at a labor camp.

The trial, which began on Friday, was held in North Korea's highest court and without any public or foreign viewers.

"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," said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Ling, 32, and Lee, 36, were working on a human trafficking story for San Francisco-based Current TV, which former U.S. Vice President Al Gore co-founded, when they were detained by North Korean soldiers on March 17. According to a New York Times report, while U.S. President Barack Obama's administration considers whether to send a special envoy to negotiate the women's release, Gore and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who helped negotiate the release of alleged spy Evan Hunziker from North Korea in 1996, have emerged as leading candidates for the role.

Regarding the verdict, North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency said, "The trial confirmed the grave crime they committed against the Korean nation and their illegal border crossing," but some reports contended whether the two journalists, their cameraman and guide crossed the Tumen River to the North Korean side. The cameraman and guide evaded capture.