Larua Ling – Euna Lee saga: From the beginning

UPDATE 24 (4/1/2011): The University of Georgia is  awarding Ling/Lee with McGill Medal. According to the AP:

The University of Georgia is honoring two reporters held captive in North Korea for 140 days in 2009.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee will receive the McGill Medal for Journalistic Courage on April 20 in Athens. The medal is named for Ralph McGill, the editor and publisher of the Atlanta Constitution who challenged racial segregation in the 1950s and ’60s.

Ling and Lee were selected from a pool of candidates nominated by reporters, editors and academicians from across the country.

UPDATE 23: Laura Ling named her first child after President Clinton.

UPDATE 22: According to the Associated Press:

An American journalist who was imprisoned in North Korea for months after briefly crossing into the reclusive country while reporting about the sex trade said Tuesday she told interrogators in a ploy for mercy that she was trying to overthrow the government.

In her first televised interview since her August release, Laura Ling said on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” that she was told the worst could happen if she didn’t confess.

Ling said she drew suspicion because she worked for San Francisco-based Current TV, a media venture founded by former Vice President Al Gore.

“I knew that that was the confession they wanted to hear and I was told if you confess there may be forgiveness and if you’re not frank, if you don’t confess then the worst could happen,” Ling said.

“It was the most difficult decision to have to do that. I didn’t know if I was sealing my fate,” she said. “But I just had to trust that this was the right thing to do.”

Ling and journalist Euna Lee were captured at the North Korea-China border in March 2009 while reporting about North Korean women who were forced into the sex trade or arranged marriages when they defected to China.

They spent the first few days of their captivity in a five-by-six foot jail cell.

“There were no bars so you couldn’t see out. And if they closed those slats, it just went completely dark,” Ling said.

The women were moved to a Pyongyang guesthouse soon after, where Ling said conditions improved, but there were no showers and the power and water went out several times a day.

“I developed a system to wash where they would allow me to heat a kettle of water,” she said. “I would mix it with some cold water and then I would scrub down and just splash it on me.”

The women were convicted of illegal entry and “hostile acts” and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor. Ling said she was petrified and tried to prepare herself for a long sentence, “but once I heard those words ’12 years’ come from the judge I could barely stand up right.”

She said she spiraled into a deep depression, refused her meals and huddled in a dark corner of her room. She said she sought strength by thinking about other innocent people imprisoned.

“If these people are undergoing this then I can try to muster up the strength to get through it,” she said.

Ling also said she was angry with herself and would slap and hit herself as punishment for putting her family through the ordeal. She thought she might be pregnant when she was captured then was crushed to learn she wasn’t.

“I thought, I will never be able to have a family with my husband again,” said Ling, who is now pregnant and due in June.

UPDATE 21: According to Yonhap:

Two North Korean soldiers who arrested female U.S. journalists on the border with China in March have been treated like heroes, according to North Korean media reports monitored here on Thursday.

The North Korean soldiers, Son Yong-ho and Kim Chol, appeared on a special program of the Pyongyang-based Korean Central TV Broadcasting Station and reflected on the moment they detained the two American journalists — Laura Ling and Euna Lee of the San Francisco-based Internet outlet Current TV.

During the TV program produced to celebrate the inaugural anniversary of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the master of ceremonies disclosed that North Korean leader Kim gave the “Kim Il-sung Youth Honor Award” and a special leave to the North Korean border guard soldiers for their “feat” in the arrest of the U.S. journalists.

Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea, is the father of leader Kim Jong-il.

In the TV program, soldier Son said that he received a hero’s welcome when he visited his hometown on a special leave. “I arrived in my hometown like a triumphant general. All residents came out to give me wreaths of flowers. A top local official even gave me a ride on his shoulder,” said Son.

He also recalled the American reporters’ arrest, saying, “On the early morning of March 17, we arrested the people as they appeared to have hostile purposes. One of the Americans offered us money begging for mercy, but we flatly turned down the offer.”

Laura Ling and Euna Lee were arrested in March on the China-North Korea border while reporting on refugees fleeing the isolated state. They were sentenced in June to 12 years in a labor camp for an unspecified “grave crime” and illegal border-crossing.

UPDATE 20: Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times giving some more details of their capture:

We arrived at the frozen river separating China and North Korea at 5 o’clock on the morning of March 17. The air was crisp and still, and there was no one else in sight. As the sun appeared over the horizon, our guide stepped onto the ice. We followed him.

We had traveled to the area to document a grim story of human trafficking for Current TV. During the previous week, we had met and interviewed several North Korean defectors — women who had fled poverty and repression in their homeland, only to find themselves living in a bleak limbo in China. Some had, out of desperation, found work in the online sex industry; others had been forced into arranged marriages.

Now our guide, a Korean Chinese man who often worked for foreign journalists, had brought us to the Tumen River to document a well-used trafficking route and chronicle how the smuggling operations worked.

There were no signs marking the international border, no fences, no barbed wire. But we knew our guide was taking us closer to the North Korean side of the river. As he walked, he began making deep, low hooting sounds, which we assumed was his way of making contact with North Korean border guards he knew. The previous night, he had called his associates in North Korea on a black cellphone he kept for that purpose, trying to arrange an interview for us. He was unsuccessful, but he could, he assured us, show us the no-man’s land along the river, where smugglers pay off guards to move human traffic from one country to another.

When we set out, we had no intention of leaving China, but when our guide beckoned for us to follow him beyond the middle of the river, we did, eventually arriving at the riverbank on the North Korean side. He pointed out a small village in the distance where he told us that North Koreans waited in safe houses to be smuggled into China via a well-established network that has escorted tens of thousands across the porous border.

Feeling nervous about where we were, we quickly turned back toward China. Midway across the ice, we heard yelling. We looked back and saw two North Korean soldiers with rifles running toward us. Instinctively, we ran.

We were firmly back inside China when the soldiers apprehended us. Producer Mitch Koss and our guide were both able to outrun the border guards. We were not. We tried with all our might to cling to bushes, ground, anything that would keep us on Chinese soil, but we were no match for the determined soldiers. They violently dragged us back across the ice to North Korea and marched us to a nearby army base, where we were detained.

Over the next 140 days, we were moved to Pyongyang, isolated from one another, repeatedly interrogated and eventually put on trial and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor.

In researching the story, we sought help from several activists and missionaries who operate in the region. Our main contact was the Seoul-based Rev. Chun Ki-won, a well-known figure in the world of North Korean defectors. Chun and his network have helped smuggle hundreds of North Koreans out of China and into countries — including the U.S. — where they can start new lives. He introduced us to our guide and gave us a cellphone to use in China, telephone numbers to reach his associates and specific instructions on how to contact them. We carefully followed his directions so as to not endanger anyone in this underground world.

Because these defectors live in fear of being repatriated to North Korea, we took extreme caution to ensure that the people we interviewed and their locations were not identifiable. We met with defectors away from their actual places of work or residence. We avoided filming the faces of defectors so as not to reveal their identities. The exception was one woman who allowed us to film her profile.

Most of the North Koreans we spoke with said they were fleeing poverty and food shortages. One girl in her early 20s said she had been told she could find work in the computer industry in China. After being smuggled across the Tumen River, she found herself working with computers, but not in the way she had expected. She became one of a growing number of North Korean women who are being used as Internet sex workers, undressing for online clients on streaming video. Some defectors appeared more nervous about being interviewed than others. But they all agreed that their lives in China, while stark, were better than what they had left behind in North Korea.

We also visited a foster home run by a pastor who worked for Chun. The home housed six children born to North Korean women who were forced into marriage in China. The mothers had either been repatriated to North Korea or had abandoned their families. Because the children have Chinese fathers, it is unlikely they will be deported to North Korea. The foster home provides them with decent conditions, an education and hope for a better life.

In the days before our capture, our guide had seemed cautious and responsible; he was as concerned as we were about protecting our interview subjects and not taking unnecessary risks. That is in part why we made the decision to follow him across the river.

We didn’t spend more than a minute on North Korean soil before turning back, but it is a minute we deeply regret. To this day, we still don’t know if we were lured into a trap. In retrospect, the guide behaved oddly, changing our starting point on the river at the last moment and donning a Chinese police overcoat for the crossing, measures we assumed were security precautions. But it was ultimately our decision to follow him, and we continue to pay for that decision today with dark memories of our captivity.

After we were detained, the two of us made every effort to limit the repercussions of our arrest. In the early days of our confinement, before we were taken to Pyongyang, we were left for a very brief time with our belongings. With guards right outside the room, we furtively destroyed evidence in our possession by swallowing notes and damaging videotapes. During rigorous, daily interrogation sessions, we took care to protect our sources and interview subjects. We were also extremely careful not to reveal the names of our Chinese and Korean contacts, including Chun. People had put their lives at risk by sharing their stories, and we were determined to do everything in our power to safeguard them.

Our families and colleagues back home maintained total silence about our work for two full months, both to minimize the potential impact on sensitive underground work in China and to protect us. We were surprised to learn that Chun spoke with reporters publicly in the immediate aftermath of our arrest. Among other things, Chun claimed that he had warned us not to go to the river. In fact, he was well aware of our plans because he had been communicating with us throughout our time in China, and he never suggested we shouldn’t go. Chun’s public statements prompted members of our families to speak directly with him in Korean, pleading with him to refrain from any further comment that might jeopardize our situation and those of relief organizations working along the border.

We know that people would like to hear more about our experience in captivity. But what we have shared here is all we are prepared to talk about — the psychological wounds of imprisonment are slow to heal. Instead, we would rather redirect this interest to the story we went to report on, a story about despairing North Korean defectors who flee to China only to find themselves living a different kind of horror. We hope that now, more than ever, the plight of these people and of the aid groups helping them are not forgotten.

Read the full story here:
Hostages of the Hermit Kingdom
Los Angeles Times
Laura Ling and Euna Lee
9/1/2009

UPDATE 19: To read more about the DPRK’s legal processes and statutes that were in play throughout the DPRK’s detention of the two reporters, click here.

UPDATE 18: Current TV filed for an IPO (Initial Public Offering) in January. More here. In April, shortly after Euna and Laura were captured, the IPO was cancelled:

Al Gore’s Current Media has canceled plans for a $100 million IPO. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Current Media says it has withdrawn its registration “in light of current market conditions.” When the company initially filed for the IPO last January, it said it would use proceeds to pay down debt and fund general operations. Since then, the market has tanked, and Current Media has run into a bit of a rough spot, eliminating 60 positions in November. The company last reported results a year ago, posting a net loss of $7.5 million for the first three months of 2008, compared to a loss of $2.9 million during the same period the year before.

I am not asserting that the IPO and the Laura/Euna saga are directly related.  I am merely posting this information because it adds some context to the story.

UPDATE 17: According to the Chison Ilbo, China used the reporters’ captured video to round up North Koreans hiding in China and those helping them:

Video footage shot by two TV journalists who were detained in North Korea after filming on the Chinese border was used by China to round up on North Korean refugees. China also deported one South Korean human rights activist who is seen in the footage and closed five orphanages that had protected North Korean children.

Chinese police also confiscated related materials including list of activists working for North Korean refugees in China, data on North Korean orphans, and video footage showing North Korean women who were sold into the Chinese countryside or appeared in porn videos.

The claims were made Thursday by Lee Chan-woo (71), a pastor with the Durihana Mission, a South Korean organization that aids North Korean defectors. Lee was caught and deported by Chinese police for helping the two reporters, who worked for former U.S. vice president Al Gore’s Internet news channel Current TV.

Lee said Laura Ling, Euna Lee and a man named Mitch Koss met him at a hotel in Yanji, in China’s Jilin Province, on March 14. They said they wanted to gather information about North Korean women who were working in adult videos at the North Korean-Chinese border area and on other North Korean women who were sold into the Chinese countryside.

They also wanted to know about children born to North Korean women and Chinese men. At the time, Lee was protecting some 21 children who had been abandoned by their Chinese families after their mothers were taken back to the North at five orphanages.

“I allowed them to collect information about the children on condition that they would not film their faces,” he said.

The three visited an orphanage the following day. Euna Lee, who speaks fluent Korean, asked children to send video messages to their mothers who had been deported to the North, and to bow to their mothers in front of the camera. But Lee said he stopped them from filming the scene.

The next day, the journalists filmed North Korean women at the border. They crossed the border and were arrested by North Korean soldiers on March 17. Ling and Lee were taken to North Korea, but Koss made it back and was arrested by Chinese border guards and handed over the video footage he was carrying.

On the early morning of Mar. 19, Chinese police raided Lee’s house and confiscated his computer, camera and various documents. “The documents contained the personal information of 25 North Korean orphans in addition to the children staying at the orphanages, and the phone numbers and addresses of human rights activists and their future plans,” he said. “I was interrogated intensively by three Korean-Chinese police officers until March 26. It was during interrogation that I found out that Chinese police had confiscated the video.”

Lee was deported to South Korea on April 8 after paying a fine of 20,000 yuan (approximately W4 million). “The five orphanages were forced to close down one by one,” he said. “I found Chinese relatives for 17 of the 21 orphans and a safe shelter for the remaining four, who have no relatives there.”

UPDATE 16: According to the New York Times clinton’s visit, and the journalists’ release were arranged by Joseph R. DeTrani:

The visit was arranged under a veil of secrecy with the help of an unlikely broker: a high-level American intelligence officer who spent much of his career trying to unlock the mysteries of North Korea.

When former President Bill Clinton landed in Pyongyang on Aug. 4 to win the release of two imprisoned American journalists, senior officials said he met an unexpectedly spry North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, who welcomed him with a long dinner that night, even proposing to stay up afterward.

Mr. Kim was flanked by two longtime aides, and he gave no hint that North Korea was in the throes of a succession struggle, despite the widespread questions over how long he might live.

Mr. Clinton and the Obama administration were determined not to extend a public-relations coup to Mr. Kim, who expressed a desire for better relations with the United States. But the visit is already setting off ripples that could change the tenor of the relationship between the United States and North Korea.

Mr. Clinton steered clear of broader issues during his humanitarian mission, officials said. Indeed, he did not even ask to see Mr. Kim, requesting instead a meeting with “an appropriate official.” To help the former president in case something went awry, the White House recommended John Podesta, an adviser to both Mr. Clinton and President Obama, join his delegation.

And to ensure he would not leave empty-handed, Mr. Clinton asked that a member of his entourage meet with the journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, shortly after he landed to make sure they were safe, said a senior administration official, who had been briefed on the visit.

The role of the intelligence officer, Joseph R. DeTrani, in arranging the visit, has not previously been reported. Mr. DeTrani is the government’s senior officer responsible for collecting and analyzing intelligence on North Korea. His efforts to pave the way for Mr. Clinton’s visit offer a glimpse into how the administration has been forced to use unorthodox methods to overcome the lack of formal communications.

During the Bush administration, when the United States was in still in talks with North Korea, the White House did not use intelligence officers for these purposes, an official familiar with the talks said. Indeed, before taking the job of North Korea mission manager in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in 2006, Mr. DeTrani served as the special envoy to the six-party talks with North Korea.

UPDATE 15: According to the Los Angeles Times, Lisa Ling states that Laura and Euna crossed into North Korea for “maybe 30 seconds” before they were captured and detained.   Lisa says Laura plans to write an editorial explaining what happened and how she was captured.

Additionally, the media is reporting the following quote a fair amount:

She had two guards in her room at all times, morning and night. And even though they couldn’t speak to her, somehow they developed a strange sort of kinship, Lisa Ling said. “She had some really lovely things to say about the people who were watching over her.”

My suspicion is that this “kinship” is largely imagined and was possibly even nurtured by the North Koreans.  The guards were almost certainly not doing anything they were not specifically authorized to do.  Nobody seems to realize that there were two guards stationed in her room precisely to prevent one of them from becoming acquainted with and developing sympathies for the two American women.  These guards had to report on each other as well as the prisoner.  This bastardized version of the buddy system is essentially the same reason the DPRK stations at least two guards together at each post along the DMZ.

Finally, the North Korean news videos of Clinton’s visit are finally up on Elufa.net.  You can watch and download them here. Here is KCNA coverage of President Clinton’s visit on Youtube.

Read all the posts related to this chain of events below:
UPDATE 14: North Korea wanted Bill Clinton to visit the DPRK as an envoy.  The flight expenses were paid by Steve Bing.  The White House denies that Clinton apologized for Laura’s and Euna’s actions and claims that Clinton did not deliver a message from President Obama.

UPDATE 13: (August 5 – 8:50am) They have arrived in Los Angeles. (video of arrival here and here)

UPDATE 12: Here are all of the KCNA posts about Clinton’s visit:

1. Bill Clinton Arrives Here
2. Kim Jong Il Meets Former U.S. President Bill Clinton
3. Dinner Arranged for Bill Clinton
4. Bill Clinton Leaves Here
5. Report on Bill Clinton’s Visit to DPRK Made Public

UPDATE 11: (7:35pm) They have all left Pyongyang. They are headed straight for Los Angeles. (here is the video)

UPDATE 10: (August 4) Laura and Euna have been pardoned.

According to Yonhap (h/t Mike):

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has granted a special pardon to two American journalists held for illegally entering North Korea on a reporting tour, North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said Wednesday.

“Kim Jong Il issued an order of the Chairman of the DPRK National Defence Commission on granting a special pardon to the two American journalists who had been sentenced to hard labor in accordance with Article 103 of the Socialist Constitution and releasing them,” the report said.

UPDATE 9: (August 4) Bill Clinton met with Laura and Euna.

UPDATE 8: (August 4) Bill Clinton surprised US audiences this morning by making a surprise appearance in Pyongyang.  The Washington Post reports that he attended a banquet dinner with Kim Jong il last night.

Thoughts that come to mind:

1. This seems reminiscent of former president Carter’s meeting with Kim Il Sung which took place during Clinton’s first term.

2. No matter the state of Kim Jong il’s health over the last year, he must now be healthy enough to meet with a foreign delegation for an extended period of time.  It remains to be seen how much talking and moving around he he did or whether he drank alcohol.

3. This effort has obviously been under negotiation for some time, maybe taking place while the US State Department and the DPRK’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs were trading jabs in the media.  It is also unlikely they would be going through with it unless some kind of outcome was assured. (Yes: here and here)

4.  Here is where the dinner banquet b/n Kim Jong il and Clinton took place.  I had suspected that this was one of the locations that Euna and Laura were being held.

5. Here are lots of photos

UPDATE 7: Laura Ling calls sister in US.  According to Reuters:

Lisa Ling told Sacramento NBC affiliate KCRA that her sister Laura Ling told her by telephone on Tuesday that she and colleague Euna Lee had violated North Korean law and needed help from the U.S. government to secure amnesty.

She quoted Laura Ling as saying: “We broke the law, we are sorry, and we need help. We need our government’s help to try and get amnesty because that really is our only hope.”

Lisa Ling said the women had not gone yet to a labor camp. “We aren’t sure exactly where they are or specifically how they are. When we asked, Laura said the conditions are OK, we’re OK, don’t worry,” Ling said.

She said both women had medical problems that had been preventing their being sent to a labor camp. “My sister has a recurring ulcer. Euna has lost 15 pounds,” she said.

Ling added: “But they’re very afraid that at some point they may be sent to a labor camp if things aren’t done before.”

“It was the third time that I’ve heard her voice since March 17 when they were first detained. And it was a very different call from the two previous calls,” she said.

“She was very deliberate and clear in her message, which was, look, you just have to know that we did violate North Korean law. We broke the law, we are sorry, and we need help. We need our government’s help to try and get amnesty because that really is our only hope,” Ling said.

Read the full story below:
U.S. journalist held in North Korea admits broke the law
Reuters
Eric Walsh
7/9/2009

UPDATE 6: June 24, 2009.  Ling and Lee met with the Swedish Ambasador to Pyongyang today. No other detials were provided.

UPDATE 5: KCNA has issued their most detailed statement yet of the Lee/Ling situation:

KCNA Detailed Report on Truth about Crimes Committed by American Journalists

Pyongyang, June 16 (KCNA) — The Korean Central News Agency on Tuesday released a detailed report laying bare the facts about the crimes committed by the American journalists who were arrested for having illegally trespassed into the border of the DPRK and committed hostile acts against it for which they were tried.

According to it, at dawn of March 17 unidentified two men and two women covertly crossed the River Tuman to intrude into its bank of the DPRK side in Kangan-ri, Onsong County, North Hamgyong Province. The two women were arrested on the spot.

The arrestees were confirmed to be Chinese-American Laura Ling, 32, correspondent of the Current TV, and south Korean-American Seung-Un Lee, 36, editor of the Current TV.

The investigation proved that the intruders crossed the border and committed the crime for the purpose of making animation files to be used for an anti-DPRK smear campaign over its human rights issue.

The preliminary investigation proved that they had a confab on producing and broadcasting a documentary slandering the DPRK with Mitch Koss, executive producer of programming of the Current TV, David Neuman, president of programming, and David Harleston, head of the Legal Department of Current TV, and other men in Los Angeles, U.S. in January.

A trial of the accused was held at the Pyongyang City Court from June 4 to 8.

At the trial the accused admitted that what they did were criminal acts committed, prompted by the political motive to isolate and stifle the socialist system of the DPRK by faking up moving images aimed at falsifying its human rights performance and hurling slanders and calumnies at it.

In the name of the DPRK the Central Court determined ten years of hard labor according to Provision 69 of the Criminal Code and four years of hard labor according to Provision 233 of the Criminal Code for the accused Laura Ling and Seung-Un Lee and sentenced them to 12 years of hard labor according to Provision 44 of the Criminal Code.

The prison term is counted from March 22, 2009, when the accused were detained and it was pronounced that the judgment is unappealable.

The criminals admitted and accepted the judgment.

We are following with a high degree of vigilance the attitude of the U.S. which spawned the criminal act against the DPRK.

UPDATE 4: Euna Lee and Laura Ling have been sentenced to 12 years of “reform through labor.”  The official KCNA statement can be read here.  According to the Los Angeles Times:

Two American television journalists today were convicted of a “grave crime” against North Korea and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor, a move that increased mounting tensions between the U.S. and the reclusive Asian state.

The state-run Korean Central News Agency reported that the court “sentenced each of them to 12 years of reform through labor” but gave no further details.

Because the pair were tried by the nation’s highest court, there can be no appeal.

The women’s trial was not open to the public.

“The North Koreans are not in a hurry to release them. They see them as valuable pawns,” said an aide official who works in Pyongyang, speaking on condition of anonymity a few days before the trial began.

Both women are married and Lee, who is Korean American, has a 4-year-old daughter. In recent days, their plight has drawn worldwide attention.

Read more here:
North Korea sentences 2 U.S. reporters to prison
Los Angeles Times
John M. Glionna and Barbara Demick
6/8/2009

UPDATE 3: Reuters reports that the State Department has contacted the North Koreans.  The location where the two were taken is now known to be somewhere along the Tumen River.  Reuters also reports they were filming on the frozen river itself—not from the Chinese side of the river.

In Washington, a State Department official who spoke on condition that she not be named, said the United States had contacted North Korean authorities about the two, who were detained on Tuesday, and was seeking their immediate release.

“Two American citizens were taken into custody at the Tumen River border between China and North Korea by North Korean border guards,” she said. “We have been in touch with North Korean authorities to express our concern about this situation and to secure the immediate release of our citizens.”

A diplomatic source said the reporters were on the frozen Tumen river when taken by North Korean security guards. The Tumen runs along the eastern section of the border with China.

UPDATE 2: According to the New York Times, the two journalists will stand trial:

Pyongyang’s decision to put Laura Ling and Euna Lee on trial signaled that the regime has no intention of freeing them soon.

The North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency accused the two of “illegal entry” and said, “their suspected hostile acts have been confirmed by evidence and their statements, according to the results of intermediary investigation conducted by a competent organ.”

“The organ is carrying on its investigation and, at the same time, making a preparation for indicting them at a trial on the basis of the already confirmed suspicions,” it said.

This was the first reported case in which a U.S. citizen will be indicted and tried in North Korea, South Korean officials said. The North’s criminal code calls for between 5 and 10 years of “education through labor” for people convicted of “hostile acts” against the state.

In a “severe” case, the code allows more than 10 years in labor camp.

On Tuesday, North Korea said it would allow the reporters consular access and treated them according to international laws.

UPDATE 1: OneFreeKorea points to an AP story that confirms Laura Ling is Lisa Ling’s sister.  Lisa Ling starred in the National Geographic special Inside North Korea.

ORIGINAL POST: North Korea has detained two American citizens who were journalists reporting along the China/DPRK border.  The New York Times gives us a run down of who was involved:

Laura Ling, a Chinese-American, and Euna Lee, a Korean-American, were believed to have been detained by North Korean border guards on Tuesday morning. Their Chinese guide, an ethnic Korean, was also detained. A third journalist, Mitch Koss, was believed to have remained in China.

Historically, who else has been detained? According to the New York Times:

Arrests of Americans in the area are rare. In 1999, the State Department said an American citizen visiting a North Korean economic zone near the Chinese border had been arrested. The citizen, Karen Han, 58, a Korean-American businesswoman based in Beijing, was deported after being held for a month on unspecified charges.

In a more widely reported case, in 1996 Bill Richardson, then a United States congressman from New Mexico, negotiated the release of the American citizen Evan C. Hunziker, who swam across the Yalu River, while drunk, on what he called a mission to spread the Gospel in the North. Mr. Hunziker was detained for three months on espionage charges.

And Times of London remembers:

In 2000 the Reverend Kim Dong Shik was kidnapped from the Chinese border city of Yanbian and taken into North Korea.

Current TV (Ms. Ling’s employer) is an Emmy award-winning independent media company led by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and businessman Joel Hyatt. Their official site is here.  For whatever reason, they have not released any information on their web page as of this posting.  Laura Ling’s content can be seen here and here. Euna Lee’s web page is here.

Learn more in the articles below:
North Korea guards detain U.S. journalists
Reuters
Jack Kim
3/19/2009

N. Korea Said to Detain U.S. Reporters
New York Times
Choe Sang hun
3/19/2009

North Korean officials cross the border to arrest US journalists
Times of London
Jane Macartney
3/19/2009

2 US journalists detained in NKorea
Associated Press
Kwang Tae Kim
3/19/2009

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  • Spelunker

    I have been monitoring media coverage of the March 17 Tumen River crossing by US journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling. Until now there have been few details released about their China border caper despite the fact that their cameraman, Mitch Koss, evaded North Korean capture and has returned to America. If you do a Google news search of “Mitch Koss” there was no mention of him after April 3 until the April 21 Asia Times article that I am going to reference in this comment.

    Several different media accounts have stated that Lee and Ling may have actually been captured by North Koreans on China’s side of the international border in Jilin province, which I still find hard to believe. My skepticism is based on my own infiltration of North Korea from various points in Liaoning province near Dandong earlier this decade. From my observations I doubt that North Korean sentries would cross the boundary in pursuit of people who are hastily returning to China.

    The Asia Times article by veteran journalist Donald Kirk presents new speculation on what might have happened with regard to Laura Ling and Euna Lee. I shall now copy and paste the 3 relevant paragraphs:

    “Whether they had actually stepped across the line in the Tumen River, frozen solid when they were picked up, is not clear. They were with a Chinese-Korean guide who is suspected of having been informing for the North Koreans and to have put them into the hands of North Korean soldiers after bringing them to the river bank on the lure of exclusive TV footage. It’s also not clear what happened to the guide, whether he got away from the North Koreans or was also detained. In any case, he’s believed now to be in Pyongyang.

    One person does know what happened – or as much as he could tell from having been a part of the incident. That’s cameraman and producer Mitch Koss, who was with Ling and Lee and escaped. He was arrested by the Chinese, but has left China, probably for San Francisco, the home of Current TV, an Internet-based operation.

    To judge from Koss’ silence, he has been told in no uncertain terms to keep his mouth shut while negotiators try to spring Ling and Lee. It’s assumed, if and when he does talk, that he will be able to clarify how the guide led them into what appears to be a trap and exactly where everyone was standing.”

    This makes sense to me because I really don’t believe those North Korean sentries were ready to grab the US journalists at the border without any advance notification. Aside from my own successful infiltrations, I have also witnessed international tourists stepping across the border with little chance of being apprehended at the sightseeing destination called 一步跨 next to Tiger Mountain Great Wall north of Dandong in Liaoning province.

    If a Chinese guide of Korean ethnic heritage did indeed tip off the North Koreans, then the sentries could have hidden themselves at the location of entrapment. Otherwise I find it hard to believe that Lee and Ling were spotted from afar and then chased down before they could reach the Chinese side of the border.

    The Tumen River crossing by US journalists was poorly planned. They chose the wrong place (Tumen) and the worst possible time (2 weeks before North Korea’s missile launch). I would have advised them to cross the China-North Korea border at a more remote location further south without the assistance of a China citizen. They should have conducted proper reconnaissance and disguised themselves as PLA soldiers. They also should not have carried any USA identification or documentation; those items could have been left safely at a hotel room in Yanji.

    Here is the website for the full article in Asia Times :
    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Korea/KD21Dg01.html

  • George

    I was listening to a radio report a few minutes ago. It mentioned that the women had a diet of “rice with rocks”. So I wonder if that is an indication of some “skimming” going on somewhere in the supply channels where rice is being removed from bags and gravel being added to get the weight back to what it should be.

  • Brad

    Does anyone know where I can find unedited video footage or official DPRK footage of Clinton’s arrival. DPRK put on quite a welcome for the Vietnamese president a while back, and I can’t imagine they did less for Clinton. http://www.elufa.net has nothing to date.

  • Michael Madden

    There probably is no “unedited” footage of Mr. Clinton’s arrival, or indeed his visit. If you have Chinese, you might try searching Xinhua; if you have Russian, you might check ITAR-TASS. These are only the news agencies that operate with any regularity in the DPRK; in fact, a Russian reporter attended the first day of Laura and Euna’s trial.

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  • http://danwei.ning.com/profile/Spelunker Spelunker

    Euna Lee must have gotten some sympathy from her guards. She was able to persuade them to help her get an urgent message to her husband reminding him to register her daughter for a summer school Korean language program. This is a well documented anecdote from one of the family’s close friends in Los Angeles.

  • http://www.nkeconwatch.com/ NKeconWatch

    I would find it highly improbable that the guards would be passing messages for prisoners unless they were specifically authorized to do so. According to Shin Sang Ok (the abducted South Korean film director), his guards repeatedly asked him to make requests–which he did, though not many were granted.

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