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North Korea 3 June 2009

Pyongyang judges asked to be lenient with two American journalists

Reporters Without Borders urges the North Korean judicial authorities to be lenient with the two American journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, whose trial is scheduled to begin tomorrow in Pyongyang.

Lee and Ling, who work for California-based Current TV, have been held since 17 March and face sentences of up to 10 years in prison with forced labour on charges of entering North Korea illegally and “hostile activities.” In fact they were just trying to cover the trafficking of North Korean women across the border between North Korea and China.

“We appeal to the North Korean judicial authorities to show the utmost clemency and we hope the trial will result in the acquittal and release of the two American journalists,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We urge the judges trying the case to follow the example set by their Iranian counterparts, who released US journalist Roxana Saberi last month.”

The press freedom organisation added: “If these two TV reporters made a mistake by getting to close to the North Korean border, they did so solely for journalistic purposes and not for political reasons or for the purposes of espionage.”

Reporters Without Borders backs the many demonstrations in support of Lee and Ling that are being organised today by relatives, friends and fellow journalists in Washington, New York, Chicago, Birmingham, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Lee and Ling, who are both married, were allowed to speak with their families by telephone last week. “We had not heard their voices in over two and a half months,” Ling’s sister Lisa said. “They are very scared, they are very, very scared.” Lee is the mother of a four-year-old girl.

In a letter to her sister, Ling wrote: “I try very hard to think about positive things, but sometimes it is hard to.”

Reporters Without Borders and the International Women’s Media Foundation today handed in a petition at the North Korean Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York calling for the immediate release of Lee and Ling. It was signed by more than 1,800 journalists, bloggers and free speech activists.

The Swedish ambassador to Pyongyang, Mats Foyer, who represents US interests in North Korea, met with the two journalists on 1 June for the third time since their arrest.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the charges brought against them are “baseless.”

Ling (who is of Chinese origin) and Lee (who is of Korean origin) had travelled to the North Korean border from inside China as part of their reporting on the trafficking of North Korean women, and were arrested there by North Korean border guards.

In this country
24 April - North Korea
Two American women journalists to be tried soon
17 April - North Korea
Two American journalists have already spent one month in custody
31 March - North Korea
Two American journalists face up to 10 years in labour camps
27 March - North Korea
Petition for the unconditional release of two American journalists
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Two US journalists transferred to Pyongyang for questioning

in the annual report
North Korea - Annual report 2008
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