12 years in N. Korea prison for 2 U.S. reporters

Arrested in March for ‘spying’ on and entering North Korea illegally, two female American journalists – after a 5-day trial – were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for committing what the state-run Korean media calls a “grave crime.” The jail sentence is the maximum possible for the charges, and although harsh, it’s hardly surprising given current tensions between North Korea and the international community.

The sentences were issued by Korea’s highest court and cannot be appealed. Within 10 days, Laura Ling and Euna Kim Lee, who were investigating the trafficking of North Korean women at the time of their arrest, will be relocated to the prison facilities where they are to spend the next 12 years of their lives. It is unclear whether they had actually crossed the China/North Korea border – as Korean news outlets report – or whether they were seized by Korean guards in China.

Laura Ling's Twitter/FB picThe U.S. does not have a diplomatic presence in North Korea, but they have pledged to “engage in all possible channels” to get the two American reporters released. Many believe the arrest, trial and subsequent sentencing are all part of a ploy by the Koreans to gain bargaining chips. North Korea’s been launching missiles and testing nuclear weapons – against the express requests of the international community – and the United Nations is currently figuring out how best to punish the country. It seems that the Koreans might use the journalists to enter into direct negotiations with the U.S. and to lighten the U.N.’s castigation.

The good news of this perspective is that North Korea fully intends to release the two women, but of course we have yet to know the price – what will they ask for in return? Obama said over the weekend that his administration has no intention of continuing a “policy of rewarding provocation,” with respect to North Korea’s nuclear program. Indeed, the U.S. has been threatening sanctions and ‘state sponsor of terrorism’ designation. This, along with the U.N.’s censure of North Korea’s rocket tests, clearly angered the country. Nuclear disarmament talks have stopped, and North Korea ran its second-ever atomic test on May 25 because the U.N. was not forthcoming with a public apology.

Lisa Ling, a well known correspondent, has been urging for the release of her sister (Laura) and her sister’s colleague, who has a 4-year-old daughter.

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