Current TV reporters sentenced to 12 years

June 8, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
The families of two American reporters convicted of crossing into North Korean territory are pleading with the government to let them go. Laura Ling and Euna Lee work for San Francisco-based Current TV. They were sentenced to 12 years hard labor.

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The families of Laura Ling and Euna Lee issued a statement saying Ling has a serious medical condition. They say Lee's 4-year-old daughter is starting to worry about her mom.

Meantime, the White House says it will pursue all possible channels to win their release.

The story dominates the front page of the Korea Daily newspaper.

"In my opinion, it is more likely the reporters will be released," said J.D. Shin from the Korea Daily newspaper.

Shin reported out of South Korea for years. He says the trial took only five days and that is significant. As we have seen so far, the trial was very speedy, which means they may be preparing another deal. A deal which Shin and many other analysts believe may result in North Korea freeing Laura Ling and Euna Lee.

Former UN ambassador Bill Richardson has traveled to North Korea.

"Their legal court process is over, and now you can start, I think, avidly, directly, indirectly, third parties, to secure their release," said Richardson.

North Korean guards arrested the two journalists on March 17th. At the time, the two were in China reporting about the trafficking of North Korean women.

It is unclear if they strayed into the north or were grabbed by guards on the Korean border.

Their friend Holly Gibson lives in Oakland.

"The 12 years is difficult to hear, but I am hoping it's more symbolic and that they'll be released in a matter of months," said Gibson.

All of this comes during heightened tensions fueled by North Korea's nuclear tests last month and signs of a pending long-range missile test.

"These women are the unfortunate victims of a political match," said Christine Ahn from the Korea Policy Institute.

Ahn and many other Korea experts believe the North may be using Ling and Lee as bargaining chips.

"They want normalized relations. They want a peace treaty and they want some economic support to develop," said Ahn. "They want to sit down with a high level official so that they can begin to negotiate directly."

And some believe that person may be former Vice President Al Gore, who owns Current TV.

So far, he has declined to comment and late Monday, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a statement saying his administration will offer any and all resources to help bring the women home.

Reporters Without Boarders also plans to help fight for the U.S. journalists' release. They rank North Korea as one of the worst countries for freedom of the press and see this sentence as an attempt to scare foreign journalists away.

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