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American Journalists Sentenced to 12 Years Imprisonment in North Korea

June 8, 2009

Two American journalists captured by North Korean soldiers and accused of illegal entry and “committing hostilities against the Korean nation” were convicted and sentenced Monday to twelve years of hard labor in North Korean labor camps. The full story at the New York Times is here. An excerpt:

Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee were on a reporting assignment from Current TV, a San Francisco-based media company co-founded by Al Gore, the former vice president, when they were detained by the soldiers. The reporters were working on a report about North Korean refugees — women and children — who had fled their homeland in hopes of finding food in China.
The circumstances surrounding their capture remain unclear.
Analysts said they were pawns in a rapidly deteriorating confrontation between the United States and North Korea — a potential bargaining chip for the Pyongyang regime and a handicap for Washington in its efforts to pressure the government over its recent missile and nuclear tests.
The sentence to North Korea’s infamous prison camps came despite repeated appeals for clemency from the journalists’ families.
International human rights groups and defectors from the Communist state deplore the conditions at North Korean labor camps, where they say malnutrition, beatings and other rights abuses were rampant.

The upside, if any, to this distressing story, is that North Korea, like Iran and other countries who have hostile relations with the west, will often dramatically shorten or vacate the sentences that are imposed at trial after securing a concession or benefit from the prisoner’s home country. To have released the women prior to the trial and sentencing would have appeared to be a concession to American interference with North Korea’s sovereignty. To release them afterwards, after some of the world’s press attention has died down and in return for some promise from America, looks more like an act of clever bargaining at home and mercy abroad.

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