New York, June 3,
2009--On the eve of the June 4 criminal trial date for U.S. television
journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling in North Korea, the Committee to Protect
Journalists calls for all countries involved in the Six Party Talks to work
together to ensure their freedom. The countries in the talks are North and South Korea, China,
Japan, Russia, and the United States.
The two journalists were on assignment for San
Francisco-based Current TV when they were picked up on March 17. They were
later charged with illegally entering the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea
and committing "hostile acts."
"We want to reiterate to North Korean that the detention of
these women is a humanitarian issue and we call upon the government to release
them," said Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia program
coordinator. "We urge that their fate not be linked to the ongoing security
situation on the Korean
Peninsula. Euna Lee and
Laura Ling were acting as journalists, not criminals, and should be released."
According to the women's families and the Swedish Mission at
the United Nations, Lee and Ling are being kept separately in what seems to be
a government guest house or possibly a hotel outside of Pyongyang. Swedish Ambassador to North Korea
Mats Foyer has acted as a liaison. They have been able to make a limited number
of phone calls home and have been able to write letters to their families. Even
though their communications are monitored, some analysts interpret this as a
sign that the North Koreans might not be too harsh in their sentencing. The women say they are not being physically
abused but that they are isolated from each other. They say they are aware that
they are caught in a power struggle that has been going on for more than five
decades on the Korean
Lee and Ling were taken by border police at a bridge
crossing over the Tumen River, which forms part of the border between North Korea and China. Mitchell Koss,
executive producer of Current TV's Vanguard Journalism reporting unit, and
a driver were working with them but were not taken. They were covering the
story of North Koreans living in the border area in China. The border is porous, with a
fair amount of trade and traffic and a large North Korean population living in
exile or traveling back and forth looking for economic opportunities.
No one from Current TV has made any public statements about
the incident, and the driver has not come forward either. The U.S. State
Department has issued few comments about the situation.
On Monday, family members, led by Laura's sister Lisa Ling,
made televised appearances calling for direct talks between the U.S. and North Korea to gain the women's
release, arguing that the humanitarian nature of the situation overrides the
diplomatic constraints limiting contact between the two countries without the
framework of the Six Party Talks.
Supporters have launched a Facebook-based grass roots
In North Korea : Journalist Laura Ling and Euna Lee, please help." Frequent
vigils have been held across the United States, with heightened
activity in the days before the trial.
Ling had twittered the group's progress as they made their
way from the U.S. to the
border area in Northern China. Her last
message, on March 17, was "Missing home."