Monday, June 8, 2009

N. Korea Sentences 2 U.S. Journalists to 12 Years of Hard Labor

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The Chess game has begun with Korea. They know that the United States takes sentencing of its people to provoke us, very seriously, and this is a continued escalation of hostilities between the two countries. Hard labor? Aren't the citizens of Korea under the same sentence?

From the New York Times

N. Korea Sentences 2 U.S. Journalists to 12 Years of Hard Labor

By CHOE SANG-HUN

Published: June 8, 2009


SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea on Monday sentenced two American journalists to 12 years of hard labor in a case widely seen as a test of how far the isolated Communist state was willing to take its confrontation with the United States.

Euna Lee, top, and Laura Ling.

The Central Court, the North’s highest court, held the trial of the two Americans, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, from Thursday to Monday and convicted them of “committing hostilities against the Korean nation and illegal entry,” the North’s official news agency, KCNA, said in a report monitored in Seoul.

Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee were detained by North Korean soldiers patrolling the border between China and North Korea on March 17.

“We are deeply concerned by the reported sentencing of the two American citizen journalists by North Korean authorities and we are engaged through all possible channels to secure their release,” Ian C. Kelly, a State Department spokesman, said in statement quoted by Reuters. “We once again urge North Korea to grant the immediate release of the two American citizen journalists on humanitarian grounds.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has called the charges “baseless” and the government had demanded that the North forgo the legal proceedings and release the two women.

The trial was closed to foreign observers, including diplomats from the Swedish Embassy who have met the journalists on Washington’s behalf because the United States and North Korea have no diplomatic relations.

The sentence, which cannot be appealed, came amid rising tensions between Washington and Pyongyang. Earlier Monday, North Korea threatened to retaliate with “extreme” measures if the United Nations punished it for its nuclear test last month, and Washington warned that it might try to restore the North to its list of states that sponsor terrorism, a designation that could subject the impoverished state to more financial sanctions.

“Our response would be to consider sanctions against us as a declaration of war and answer it with extreme hard-line mes,” the North Korea’s state-run newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, said in a commentary.

Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee were on a reporting assignment from Current TV, a San Francisco-based media company co-founded by Al Gore, the former vice president, when they were detained by the soldiers. The reporters were working on a report about North Korean refugees — women and children — who had fled their homeland in hopes of finding food in China.

The circumstances surrounding their capture remain unclear.

Analysts said they were pawns in a rapidly deteriorating confrontation between the United States and North Korea — a potential bargaining chip for the Pyongyang regime and a handicap for Washington in its efforts to pressure the government over its recent missile and nuclear tests.

The sentence to North Korea’s infamous prison camps came despite repeated appeals for clemency from the journalists’ families.

International human rights groups and defectors from the Communist state deplore the conditions at North Korean labor camps, where they say malnutrition, beatings and other rights abuses were rampant.

Ms. Ling is said to suffer from an ulcer and needs medication. Ms. Lee has a four-year-old daughter at home.

The sentence surprised some observers.

“They meted out a verdict somewhat harsher than I had expected. It means that North Korea doesn’t want to release them without Washington paying a price,” said Lee Woo-young, a North Korea specialist at the University of North Korea Studies in Seoul. “It sends a signal to Washington to become more active in negotiations.”

Lee Sang-hyun, an analyst at the Sejong Institute, said that North Korea would eventually free the two journalists — _ as Iran expelled Roxana Saberi, an American journalist who spent four months in an Iranian prison — but not before Washington sends a prominent envoy to Pyongyang.

Ms. Saberi was originally sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of spying for the United States but was released May 11 after an appeals court reduced her sentence to a two-year suspended sentence.

Defying not only its traditional foes — the United States, Japan and South Korea — but also its longtime ideological allies, China and Russia, North Korea launched an intermediate-range rocket on April 5 and conducted an underground nuclear test on May 25.
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