Families Plead for Reporters Release

June 8, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
The families of two American journalists sentenced to 12-years hard labor in North Korea, are pleading for their release. The White House said it will pursue all avenues to win freedom for the Bay Area reporters who are accused of entering the country while covering a story.

The charges against journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee are vague; simply described as "grave crimes" against North Korea. But the verdict is clear, 12-years of hard labor for allegedly crossing into North Korean territory.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "The court's decision comes after a five-day trial that was closed to any observers. It remains unclear if the journalists ever willingly or even accidentally strayed into North Korean territory as they covered a story on the human trafficking of refugees."

Laura Ling's sister Lisa Ling said, "I will say with absolute certainty that when they left U.S. soil they never intended to cross the border into North Korean."

The women were arrested in March, but there are fears they have become pawns for future international relations. The United Nations is deciding how to punish North Korea and Dictator Kim Jong Il for atomic weapons tests last month. The U.S. government vows to pursue all possible channels to win the journalists' release.

Donald Gregg, ABC News Consultant: "Up to now, the humanitarian issue of the two young journalists and the political issues of the nuclear weapons and missile tests have been kept separate."

The journalists worked for former Vice President Al Gore's Current TV. There is speculation he may intervene with the North Korean government.

Holly Gibson, a colleague of convicted journalists said, "The 12 years is difficult to hear, but I'm hoping that it's more symbolic than anything else and that maybe they'll be released within a matter of months."

Verdicts issued by North Korea's highest court cannot be appealed on legal grounds, leaving the fate of two women up to diplomatic appeals.

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