US journalists face 12 years of hard labor


That’s the sentence handed down by the North Korean regime to two American women accused of entering the country illegally while shooting a documentary for Current TV. Now expectations are rising that former US Vice President Al Gore, co-founder of Current, will make a personal visit to seek their release.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who were arrested in March, were found guilty of unspecified “hostilities against the Korean nation” and sentenced to 12 years in a North Korean labor camp. As harsh as life is for ordinary North Koreans, life in one of the country’s prisons is said to be brutal, with many prisoners dying from forced labor, poor nutrition and torture.

Current and Gore have kept a low profile in public on the situation with the two journalists in North Korea. Now that they have been sentenced, it is likely that the Obama Administration will step up effort to win their release on humanitarian grounds. Gore himself could be appointed as a special envoy to negotiate with the North Korean government.

The US has long had strained relations with the North Korean regime and tensions have increased recently over the restart of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Nevertheless, past efforts have succeeded in getting Americans released from North Korean custody. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a former UN Ambassador, went to North Korean in 1996 as a Congressman and secured the release of a US man.

Despite the severe sentences, Richardson told NBC’s “Today” that the outcome was good news because the two were not convicted of espionage. And, he said, now that the sentencing has taken place, diplomatic efforts to win their release can begin.

The Society of Professional Journalists issued a statement denouncing the prison sentences. “This entire case is absolutely a sham and an unnecessary show of force by a hostile government. North Korea will never be taken seriously on the world stage if it continues to stymie press freedom and act like an adolescent bully,” said SPJ President Dave Aeikens.