North Korea’s highest court this morning sentenced two American journalists to 12 years of hard labor for “committing hostilities against the Korean nation and illegal entry,” the Communist dictatorship’s official news agency, KCNA, reported.
The two Americans, Laura Ling (below, right) and Euna Lee (left), were detained by North Korean border guards on March 17. They were investigating the plight of women and children trying to flee the country.
The trial was closed to foreign observers, including diplomats from the Swedish Embassy who had met the journalists on Washington’s behalf because the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with North Korea.
The sentence cannot be appealed. Conditions in North Korean labor camps are said to be harsh and life-threatening. Malnutrition, beatings and other rights abuses are rampant according to human rights groups.
Ms. Ling suffers from an ulcer and needs medication. Ms. Lee has a four-year-old daughter at home in California.
Their sentencing came just three days after the State Department said it might send former vice president Al Gore to Pyongyang in order to negotiate their release. Gore is chairman of the San Francisco-based station Current TV, which employs the two journalists.
In a column published May 9 in the Washington Post, Victor Cha, a former adviser to President George W. Bush on North Korea, suggested that the Obama administration should send Gore to Pyongyang.
“The United States needs to send a high-level envoy to North Korea to bring these women home. The obvious candidate would be Gore,” wrote Cha, who is now a professor at Georgetown University.
“The North Koreans would respect someone of his stature, and his stake in the issue would make his mission eminently credible. Without fear of setting or breaking diplomatic precedent, he could issue whatever ‘apologies’ were necessary to secure the two women’s release,” wrote Cha. “Similar token apologies have been issued in the past.”
In the 1990s, Washington obtained the release of two U.S. nationals who were arrested by the North Koreans. One was a young man suspected of espionage and the other was a military helicopter pilot who was shot down after having entered North Korean air space.