In the News
Why was Lisa Ling’s Sister Arrested Abroad?
The delicate maneuverings to secure her release
It’s been two weeks since Laura Ling, the sister of well-known TV journalist Lisa Ling, was arrested by North Korean authorities on the border between China and North Korea. Laura, also a reporter, was with her colleague, Euna Lee. They were working for former Vice President Al Gore’s San Francisco-based media outlet, Current TV.
Now North Korean authorities have accused the two of being spies and say they will be tried for “hostile acts” and illegally entering the country. “The illegal entry of U.S. reporters into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and their suspected hostile acts have been confirmed by evidence and their statements…,” the authorities declared in an official statement. They added that preparations are being made to try the journalists “on the basis of the already-confirmed suspicions.”
This is a frightening prospect, as North Korea is one of the most politically isolated and repressive countries in the world.
There is a dispute about whether the two did really stray across the border. Working on a documentary about the trafficking of women across the North Korean-Chinese border, Laura and her colleague were filming on the ice near a frozen river that separates the two countries when they were taken into custody. “I told them it was dangerous and that they should not have gone so close to the river,” said Chun Ki-won, a South Korean pastor who was helping the reporters and had spoken to them an hour before they disappeared. Just days before she was captured, Laura wrote on Twitter. “Spent the day interviewing young N. Koreans who escaped their country. Too many sad stories.”
Since their capture, there has been little news about the pair, who were taken to a guest house in Pyongyang, North Korea’s austere capital, for questioning. Part of the problem is that the United States does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea and all negotiations for the pair’s possible release must be handled by a Swedish diplomat.
The journalists’ capture is especially difficult for the Obama administration. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been talking tough to the North Koreans, who are threatening to test a long-range missile. The fact that these two young women journalists are being held and might be put on a show trial further complicates the difficult relationship between the two countries.
The International Women’s Media Foundation and Reporters Without Borders have jointly launched a petition for the immediate and unconditional release of the two women. CNN’s Campbell Brown, co-chairman of the organization, said in statement, “Pyongyang authorities have no reason to hold them or to accuse them of illegal activities. They should be freed at once.” Jane Ransom, IWMF”s executive director said, “Our organization always tries to honor the courage of women who are risking life and limb to report the news.”
The IWMF has set up a petition you can sign to help free Laura Ling and Euna Lee from their arrest and detention and return them to safety.
UPDATE: While delicate diplomatic maneuvers are ongoing to return the journalists to safety, North Korean authorities appear to be moving toward an indictment. If found guilty of the charges, Laura Ling and Euna Lee could face ten years of hard labor in North Korea’s harsh prison system.