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NK Sentences 2 US Journalists to 12 Years

Posted June. 09, 2009 07:18,   


North Korea sentenced yesterday two detained American journalists to 12 years in prison.

The ruling by the North’s highest court is not subject to appeal, so the United States is expected to negotiate with the communist country for their release.

The North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency said, “The Central Court of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea conducted the trial of Laura Ling and Lee Seung-eun (known as Euna Lee in the U.S.) June 4-8,” adding, “The court sentenced them to 12 years of reform through labor for committing hostile acts against the North Korean people and illegally crossing the border.”

Those sentenced to “reform through labor” are sent to prison to perform hard labor.

Choi Eun-seok, a researcher at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies in South Korea, said, “North Korea’s Central Court is equivalent to South Korea’s Supreme Court, so the ruling from the first trial is final because an appeal is impossible.”

“If the court sends a document on the ruling to a labor camp, the two journalists will be sent there within 10 days.”

A government official in Seoul said, “The sentence was heavy but is nothing much to be concerned about.”

“They were not found guilty of espionage. This signals the North is willing to release them through negotiations.”

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said yesterday in a statement that the U.S. government is deeply concerned over the sentence, adding, “We are engaged through all possible channels to secure their release.”

Prior to the sentence, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton apologized to the North on behalf of the two journalists for their border crossing. She urged for their safe return home in a letter sent to the communist country, according to U.S. network ABC Sunday.

Washington will reportedly begin a full-fledged negotiation with Pyongyang for their release through official channels such as the Swedish Embassy in North Korea or North Korea’s mission at the United Nations.

Speculation is also rising that either former U.S. Vice President Al Gore or New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson will go to Pyongyang to negotiate the release of the two detainees.

The two work for Current TV, a San Francisco-based Internet media outlet co-founded by Gore. They were taken into North Korean custody March 17 while reporting the plight of North Korean defectors near the North Korean-Chinese border.

The North said May 14 that it would put the journalists on trial and announced the start of the trial last Thursday.

kyle@donga.com sechepa@donga.com