Transparency sought in Lee, Ling case

New York, June 17, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on North Korean authorities to demonstrate greater transparency in their treatment of imprisoned U.S. television reporters Euna Lee and Laura Ling. 

On Tuesday, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) claimed that Lee and Ling have “admitted and accepted” their convictions on charges of crossing into North Korea from China in March. The two were sentenced to 12 years hard labor after the closed-door trial. The government has not disclosed any evidence of its assertions in the case or its treatment of the two journalists.

“Euna Lee and Laura Ling were tried behind closed doors and remain hidden from the international community and their families. The convictions of these two journalists by the highest court in North Korea remain suspect. An announcement of guilt made through a government news agency after a secret trial is not the equivalent of open and due process,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia Program coordinator.

The KCNA announcement said: “We are following with a high degree of vigilance the attitude of the U.S., which spawned the criminal act against the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea].” The comment renewed concerns that the women are considered pawns in larger geopolitical issues being played out on the Korean peninsula 

Lee, a Korean-American, and Ling, a Chinese-American, were arrested on March 17 by North Korean guards on the Tumen River, which forms a border with China. According to their families in the United States, they were filming a story about refugees for California-based internet broadcaster Current TV. While they were held in Pyongyang they were allowed several visits from Swedish Ambassador Mats Foyer (the United States does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea). They were each allowed a phone call home, and were able to exchange letters with their families. Beginning several days before their June 4 trial, however, all outside contact with the women has been cut off. No outside observers were allowed to attend the trial, which KCNA said ended on June 8.

The women’s families have made repeated public pleas that the women be released. The families have also asked that the women be allowed to contact loved ones, diplomats, or humanitarian organizations.

“That their whereabouts are not known, that they have been denied visits from diplomats and international aid organizations, and that they have not been allowed to communicate with their families is overly punitive,” Dietz said. 

CPJ’s coverage of the case can be found here.

Editor’s note: The original version of this alert has been modified in the 1st and 3rd grafs to correct Ling’s first name.