Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | Denver AAJA chapter to host candlelight vigil for Euna Lee and Laura Ling
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Denver AAJA chapter to host candlelight vigil for Euna Lee and Laura Ling

Euna Lee (left) and Laura Ling, Asian American journalists, were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor in North Korea.

Journalism can be a dangerous business. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 735 have been killed so far since Jan. 1, 1992 when the organization began keeping track. Many others are kidnapped or imprisoned while they do their work, covering conflicts and uncovering injustices all over the world.

Sometimes, like in the case of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal South Asia bureau chief who was abducted and killed in Pakistan in 2002, the story has a tragic ending. Sometimes, like with Iranian American reporter Roxana Saberi’s arrest and later release by the Iranian government, the story ends well.

We can only hope that Euna Lee and Laura Ling, two Asian American journalists who were arrested and charged with espionage by North Korea back in March and then sentenced to 12 years of hard labor last month, will see a happy ending to their story.

The Denver chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association is hosting a candlelight vigil to support Lee and Ling, and to urge the U.S. government to do everything possible to secure their freedom. The vigil is set for 8:30 pm Friday, July 3 at Civic Center Park, Colfax and Broadway in downtown Denver.

The two have been imprisoned already for over 100 days, and the prospects of punishing hard labor has sparked increased speculation that the Obama administration will send a high-level representative to negotiate the journalists’ release. Al Gore, who founded the news organization the two worked for, Current TV, and New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, who as a Congressman helped negotiate the release of a US citizen from North Korea in 1996, and also in securing the remains of US soldiers from North Korea, have been named as possible envoys.

The situation is made tricky — dangerously so — by the unpredictable nature of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Il, who’s trying to bully his way onto the world stage by waving around a nuclear threat. I seriously wonder if he’s sane, and hope that when he does pass on (he’s reportedly been sick) and his power goes to his son, North Korea becomes a more stable country.

For now, there’s an inescapable feeling that Kim is using the two women as pawns in high-stakes gamesmanship. I hope that’s the case, anyway, and that once he gets the attention and favors or whatever he’s looking for, that he lets them go.

The national AAJA office sent out an announcement upon the pair’s sentencing that noted, “The Asian American Journalists Association is deeply disappointed in the sentencing of journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling in North Korea.”

“We call on all parties in a position to work diplomatic channels to free these two journalists,” said Sharon Chan, AAJA National President. “We hope a way will be found to return these two women to their families.”

This is the first public event for the Denver chapter of the AAJA, which is a provisional chapter while we establish ourselves in the eyes of the national organization. I hope we have a great turnout of our 30-some members in the area, and also that we get people from area Asian American Pacific Islander organizations to attend and show pan-Asian support for this outrage.

AAJA chapters and AAPI organizations across the country have been holding vigils since Lee and Ling’s arrest. We decided to hold this vigil this weekend because of the symbolism of showing our support during the Independence Day weekend.

I hope to see you at Civic Center Park on Friday, 8:30!