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In this image from a video aired by North Korea's KRT in August, Kim Jong Un speaks with officials in North Korea. The country has sentenced two South Korean journalists to death in absentia. (KRT via AP Video)

North Korea sentences two South Korean journalists to death in absentia

September 1, 2017 4:49 PM ET

New York, September 1, 2017--A North Korean court has sentenced the South Korean journalists Son Hyo-rim, of Dong-A Ilbo, and Yang Ji-ho, of Chosun Ilbo, and the papers' respective director generals, Kim Jae Ho and Pang Sang Hun to death, the country's state media reported yesterday. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the sentences and called on North Korea to overturn the conviction.

North Korea convicted the journalists and their publishers in absentia of "insulting the dignity of the country," according to Reuters. The journalists do not have a right to appeal, according to reports. The charge is related to their coverage earlier this month of a book called, North Korea Confidential.

A statement from North Korea's Central Court warned that the execution could be carried out "any moment and at any place, without going through any additional procedures," according to Reuters.

"North Korea's threat to execute Son Hyo-rim and Yang Ji-ho for writing critically about the regime is at the same time ridiculous and chilling," said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney. "North Korea should immediately commute the death sentence and end its hostile rhetoric against the journalists and their publishers."

Son, a culture reporter, does not write regularly write about North Korea, according to her colleague, Joo Sung-Ha. Joo added that many other newspapers reported on the book and he said he was unclear why North Korea had singled out Son and Yang.

CPJ called Chosun Ilbo to request comment, but the call was disconnected.

South Korea's Unification Ministry described North Korea's actions as a violation of press freedom and said that its government will take measures to ensure the safety of citizens, according to reports.

North Korea is one of the most censored countries in the world, according to CPJ research. In February, Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of the North Korean dictator, was assassinated at an airport in Malaysia. South Korea says Kim Jong Un ordered the attack, according to reports.

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