Euna Lee, Laura Ling families to speak out

May 29, 2009 4:31 PM ET

With a June 4 criminal trial date looming for what North Korea calls "hostile acts," the families of Euna Lee and Laura Ling have decided to speak out about the two journalists' detention in Pyongyang. The two women have been held since March 17. In a Facebook announcement, the families told supporters: "Our families have been very quiet because of the extreme sensitivity of the situation, but given the fact that our girls are in the midst of a global nuclear stand-off, we cannot wait any longer."
Euna Lee, left, and Laura Ling. (AP)

Although family members have attended some of the many grassroots support demonstrations and candlelight vigils, they have generally followed a disciplined silence. Current TV, for whom Lee and Ling were reporting, has come under criticism for not reporting the story on its Web site. Former Vice President Al Gore, a partner in the news outlet, has been deeply involved in working with the State Department to get the women released. The tactic: The less said publicly the better. There is the obvious fear of antagonizing Pyongyang by interfering with what are always sensitive interactions with the country's leadership.

The families' decision to speak out has been a long time coming and they did not reach it easily, but it is being executed deftly. The families say they have scheduled appearances on NBC and CNN on Monday; CNN's Larry King is already promoting it. The families say they're looking to influence both North Korea and the United States to work for the release of the two journalists.

According to the family and the Swedish Mission at the United Nations, which has worked as an intermediary, Lee and Ling are being kept separately in what seems to be a government guest house or possibly a hotel outside of Pyongyang. They have been able to make a limited number of phone calls home--which can be interpreted as a good sign, although the calls are definitely monitored--and they say they are not being physically abused. But they are isolated and aware they are caught in a power struggle that has been going on for more than five decades on the Korean Peninsula.

They were detained by border police in mid-March at a bridge crossing over the Tumen River, which forms the border between North Korea--officially, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea--and China. They were covering the story of North Koreans living in China. The border is surprisingly 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. The coverage approach is familiar--when I worked at Asiaweek I proposed we do the story, calling it "Looking South to the North."  

On Thursday, I did an interview on WHYY's "Radio Times" about Lee and Ling. I followed Aaron Friedberg, a professor at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. As I was waiting for my slot to come up, I listened to Friedberg's analysis and found it right on point. The full interview is here, and my six-minute section can be downloaded as an mp3 


Well its sad to see people imprisoned ,I find
it hard to pity Miss Lee and Miss Ling.Both of
them understood the dangers and was arrested.
If I enter in to posted no trespassing zones
I am fined and maybe arrested because I am not
suppose to be there.Nobody goes boo hoo for me
and trys to make me look like the victim.Well
they wanted in North Korea and they got their
wish.Let both of them serve the time for their
crime and no more be said of it....


Of course high risk journalism has high risk consequences. This is all the more reason that we should support Ms.Ling and Ms.Lee, and other journalists who take great personal risks to provide information to the public.

There are brave voices of activists and writers who speak from within the borders of their nations. There are also brave international journalists who bring information to the world. Both should be defended by those of us living in comfort,safety and peace.

In response to Batard(above): It would be nice if they were fined and that was the end of it.

Journalists like Ms.Ling and Ms. Lee bring needed information to the U.S. public. Due to (not, despite) the fact that they knowingly entered a dangerous situation , they should be defended.

Take a moment to join the email campaign.


l. von Blanckensee June 2, 2009 11:44:24 AM ET

Let's hope and pray that North Korea does the right thing and release these innocent journalist, so they may be reunited with their families.

My heart breaks for these young ladies especially for Euna's young daughter. My prayers will continue to be with them. I truly pray for them daily and for their safe return home. My love and prayers to their waiting families.

I have been waiting to hear word. I am not sure at all how this process works, nor how long it will take. My prayers are with all involved and their families. If I am worring and waiting, I can only imagine the families, Laura and Euna. God keep them safe, and hear our Prayers!

My heart breaks for the families of both girls I watch all of Lisa Lings exposes on her efforts to bring news to us the american public and the danger she has endured getting those stories to us I think we are ALL HOPING FOR A SAFE RETURN............

God Bless these women and return them safely to the U.S.A. I do not think the punishment fits the crime. Not knowing the exact reason these two made this decision to cross the border, i cannot comment on their guilt....
However, I do beleive what Hillary Rotman Clinton says...put NORTH KOREA back on the Terroroist List....for their nuclear warfare...
And may God Bless the communists of NOrth Korea and lead them to make the right decision and return these women....safely, unharmed to their families...AMEN

Eugene McDonald June 7, 2009 7:19:00 PM ET

Lee's a tape editor--who at Current assigned her to this story? Who got them that close to the border? No network news outfit would have let them go.

The cost of reporting can be more than imprisonment it can mean your life. Journalist take extraordinary risks to supply us with real news which in turn, keeps us updated with news that could affect our lives. From this note, we should be thankful that these people are willing to take drastic risks to report the events that are happening around the world that could directly or indirectly change are world. So I pray that these special women are released promptly and are soon home with their loved ones.

This travesty must be addressed for what it is: North Korea is playing a dangerous game which will only result in holding the entire world hostage - if we allow them to continue
bullying the rest of us, while using these 2 women as bargaining chips. My vote is to involve the UN & declare the North Korean government as the terriorist regime they are.

We need to bring these women home & do it sooner than later. My hope & prayer for both families as that they be returned unharmed & safe.

I am so mad at these journalists. Once you bring a child into this world and are responsible for another human being,you have no right to put yourself in that position. Human trafficking is one of the most dangerous cartels because of the money and corruption involved and investigating it on the border of the most dangerous terrorist countries in the world is so irresponsible for a parent, not to mention putting our country in the position to have to negotiate with terrorists. Obviously trying to do good on some level but I think more motivation for award winning journalism recognition. It's like drug trafficing,you can investigate and report on it all you want,but you will never win the war until, like drugs, prositution is legalized. Not than I am advocating this at all, but we know this from the "war" on drugs, and so do they. It's beyond irresponsible on so many levels and so maddening. As a parent, you have to weigh the danger you put yourself in to do your job-if not, you care more about your career than your family. Not to mention the position the country is now in. Having a child changes your life and this is a perfect example of how so. You no longer have the right to make the same decisions you might have before you were responisble for another human life. It does not mean that you can't have an incredible career and should saty at home and bake cookies by any means. But it does mean you have a duty to make responsible decisions such as always putting your child first before your self serving career recognition.

I think twelve years is excessive punishment, however, I'm a huge proponent of personal responsibility. Lee and Ling obviously knew they were entering North Korea, and they obviously knew that relations between North Korea and the US are NOT good. North Korea was just waiting to say, "See, we can, and did, put Americans in labor camps." It was foolish for them to enter North Korea. As someone before me said, they wanted to be there, now they are. I feel bad for them, but if "if you can't pay the time, don't do the crime." I know I would not mess around with a country like North Korea, and I also know if I did, and was caught, people would probably say I deserved to be sent to a labor camp because I'm not "high profile." As for Americans needing that kind of news, we don't need what journalists like Lee and Ling can provide. There really is little they could have provided had they not gotten caught that they couldn't have provided from inside China or AT the border. When traveling in foreign countries, be prepared to pay the penalties THEY impose. Your own country can do little to nothing to help you.

Wow.I find many of these comments to be appalling. There is an obvious injustice in the this case as well it shows what a horrible country North Korea is. Lets be honest and realize that North Korea is communist country. Do we hear the cry's of injustice and do nothing. These journalists did a brave and wonderful thing. I pray for North Korea does the right thing a releases them.

Looking at all the angry comments from above criticizing the journalists, what would you say if the women didn't accidentally meander over the border, but were instead taken by the North Koreans and then falsely accused for crossing the border? These women aren't stupid. They had no intention prior to their departure to cross the border. What if the North Koreans saw the cameras and seized the opportunity, literally?

New perspective June 8, 2009 1:29:14 PM ET

They know better to go to a country like North Korea, we have enough problems in USA to have to put up with 2 spoiled journalists females, if you are a journalists you are on your own, dont come crying to USA if you get in trouble just because you want to be the first one to be in certain country just to be famous and make lots of $$ with our taxes.
This 2 journalists will get fame and money when they come back to USA and probably consider as "heroes" anyways, probably write a book and become millionaires

i pray them to come to home ASAP ... same time , i don't think we can accuse of North Korea .
Every country will detain who spies against those countries. Just recently we arrested Cuban couple for spying .We cry if something happenings against US citizens , but we are ignorant if we do something similar .

Euna Lee is a 2001 graduate of the Academy of Art University. In support of her release as well as Laura Ling's, we have compiled an online petition open to all. Add your signature:

My heat and prayers go out to Laura Ling and Euna Lee. I wish something could be done. Unfortunately with the current administration it with will be a long long that any real action “if any” will be taken.
But I do believe in the power prayer and my thoughts are with the families.


I really wonder if the US government is doing anything at this time to try to release the two women. The punishment does not fit the crime. Here in the USA we have people who get away with murder in trials in courts. And all these two women did was cross the border. In my opinion, North Korea is a very hostile country. I wish Pyongyang will die soon. I saw him on TV last night and it was reported that he has aged and may have suffered a stroke. Good for him.
I just pray that these women are released soon.

To the above comment you must realize that North Korea is very different then the USA. I too wish they would be released but we have to remember who we are dealing with.

Mrs. Clinton empathetically appealed for Mr. Kim's amnesty for Laura and Euna because they violated the law. We hope these two young women would come home with appreciation and joy to their loving families. Now the countries involved in this incidence could move into a more serious negotiations for peaceful progress for the diplomatic relations. We pray for Mr. Kim's good health. his honorable good will. We all need the understanding of each others' humaneness and find a better way of human relations which could bring more blessing to all of us.

We hope North and South Korea could be unified peaceful way and live peacefully together as brothers and sisters.

Wishing for your good health.


Chae S. Sone

I am very glad to see the two women returned safely, but upon their return they need to lose their passports for life. You don't stumble into N.Korea by accident, and their irrespobsibility could have put more people in danger. I wonder what the bargaining tool the U.S. used to get these women back. Do we actually think that Clinton walked over there told a few jokes and they pardoned them. I don't think so. This could have set back relations for years. So, although I am very happy that you girls are back, shame on you for being so ignorant in your decisions.

Social Media

View All ›