Ahn Young-joon/AP
South Koreans watch a TV broadcasting news about two American journalists detained in
North Korea.

US Plans to Negotiate for Journalists Convicted in North Korea

June 09, 2009 06:00 PM
by Kate Davey
The sentencing of two American journalists to hard labor in North Korea drives yet another wedge between Kim Jong Il's dictatorship and the United States.

U.S. Journalists Found Guilty of “Grave Crime”

The Los Angeles Times explains that Laura Ling and Euna Lee, journalists for Current TV, were working on a film about human trafficking on the Chinese-North Korea border when North Korea police arrested them for allegedly crossing into North Korea.

North Korea’s Central Court found the journalists guilty of a “grave crime” and sentenced them both to 12 years of hard labor. David Hawk, author of the 2004 study "The Hidden Gulag: Exposing North Korea's Prison Camps," told The Los Angeles Times about the terrible experiences that the women potentially face in a labor camp.

“It’s extremely hard labor under extremely brutal conditions. These places have very high rates of deaths in detention. The casualties from forced labor and inadequate food supplies are very high,” Hawk said.

Lee Dong-bok, a senior associate with the CSIS think tank in South Korea, told Reuters North Korea is being strategic in its timing of this sentence: “(North Korea) is using the sentence as bait to squeeze concessions out of the U.S. amid heightened tension.”

According to The Washington Post, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is considering adding North Korea to the lists of “state sponsors of terrorism.” During an interview with ABC’s “This Week,” Clinton explained that it was important to keep the matter of North Korea’s nuclear escalation separate from negotiations for the freedom of Ling and Lee.

“We’ve been very careful in what we’ve said, because clearly we don’t want this pulled into the political issues that we have with North Korea, or the concerns that are being expressed in the United Nations Security Council,” she said. “This is separate. It is a humanitarian issue, and the girls should be let go."

Background: North Korea tests missiles, “Dear Leader” Names Successor

The North Korean government had previously agreed to shut down its nuclear weapons program, but according to Agence France-Presse, the country tested a short-range nuclear missile in late May.

Meanwhile, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Il, who has apparently suffered from ill health in recent months, recently secured the line of succession by naming his youngest son Kim Jong Un to follow him.

Related Topic: Roxana Saberi Freed From Iranian Prison

A previous attempt by the U.S. government to negotiate the release of a journalist from a foreign prison ended successfully in May. Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi had been sentenced to eight years in an Iranian prison on espionage charges. Members of the international community, including the European Union and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asked for her release. Within the country, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi had both requested that Saberi be given the chance to defend herself.

Saberi was released after an Iranian appeals court found that Iran's Revolutionary Court had used the wrong penal code to try her.

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