New York, August 4, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes media reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has pardoned and ordered the release of imprisoned journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee after former U.S. President Bill Clinton arrived in Pyongyang today.
“Kim Jong-il issued an order … granting a special pardon to the two American journalists who had been sentenced to hard labor,” the BBC and other news outlets quoted the official Korean Central News Agency as saying. On June 8, a court sentenced the Current TV journalists to 12 years’ labor for illegally entering North Korea and committing unspecified “hostile acts” while reporting near the border with China.
“We welcome the news that Euna Lee and Laura Ling will be pardoned and released after more than four months in detention,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “This has been a long and complex process given the situation on the Korean peninsula. We thank former President Clinton for his intervention and we are grateful that the North Korean authorities have responded to appeals for clemency. We know that the families of these two reporters will be relieved to have their loved ones back home.”
North Korean media announced Clinton’s surprise arrival in the capital early this morning, according to international news reports. He met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il for dinner, the reports said. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs characterized the trip as a private effort on behalf of Ling and Lee, and not an official diplomatic mission, according to the reports.
North Korean border guards arrested Ling and Lee more than four months ago while they were preparing a report on North Korean refugees escaping to China for California-based Current TV. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appealed to North Korea to show leniency in July.