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Terrorism & Security

North Korea sentences US journalists to 12 years

The regime found the two reporters guilty of unspecified 'grave' crimes and sentenced them to 'reform through labor.'

By Jonathan Adams / June 8, 2009

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North Korea on Monday found two American journalists guilty of illegal entry and unspecified "grave" crimes, and sentenced them each to 12 years of hard labor.

The news comes as the United States is mulling stepped-up measures, including interdiction of North Korean ships, to counter Pyongyang's recent belligerence.

Euna Lee and Laura Ling both worked for Current TV, a San Francisco-based news-site cofounded by former US vice president Al Gore. They were arrested in March while working on a story about North Korean defectors.

The BBC reported that North Korea announced the news in a brief statement.

"The trial confirmed the grave crime they [the reporters] committed against the Korean nation and their illegal border crossing," state-run KCNA news agency said in a brief report, adding that they were sentenced to 12 years of "reform through labour".

The BBC also noted Washington's response:

In a statement, the US State Department said: "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."
US Secretary of State [Hillary] Clinton earlier described the charges against the two women as "baseless". She is thought to be considering sending an envoy to try to negotiate their release.

The Korea Times reports that the sentences were "harsher than expected." They came after a stepped-up campaign by the US to secure the two journalists' release.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has lately toughened her call on North Korea to free the two women....
Washington believes that "the charges against these young women are absolutely without merit or foundation," Clinton said in an interview with ABC television over the weekend. Clinton admitted to sending a letter asking for their release and said she has received "responses."

North Korea's labor camps have a grisly reputation. The Financial Times reported, "Defectors have told harrowing tales of North Korea's gulags, where inmates are termed "tailless animals" and arbitrary execution is common." One North Korean defector who escaped from a gulag turned his experiences into fodder for a macabre musical, the paper reported.


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