Laura Ling and Euna Lee tell their story… or part of it

Laura Ling and Euna Lee, the two US journalists who were captured, put on trial and convicted of trespassing and “hostile acts” by the government of North Korea, have written part of their story — a lot is still too traumatic to tell. The article appeared last night on both the LA Times (interestingly, as an “Opinion” piece) and on the website of their employer, Current TV.

The point of the public writing is to re-focus the narrative from their experience being captured (though they cover that as well) but on the story they were chasing in the first place when they were captured: The desperate plight of refugees escaping North Korea into China.

We had traveled to the area to document a grim story of human trafficking for Current TV. During the previous week, we had met and interviewed several North Korean defectors, women who had fled poverty and repression in their homeland, only to find themselves living in a bleak limbo in China. Some had, out of desperation, found work in the online sex industry; others had been forced into arranged marriages. Now our guide, a Korean Chinese man who often worked for foreign journalists, had brought us to the Tumen River to document a well-used trafficking route and chronicle how the smuggling operations worked.

Their investigation took them into North Korea, but only for a very short time — less than a minute, they say — but the consequences were dire, and they wonder if they’d been set up by an informant. Continue reading

Laura Ling, Euna Lee & Kim Jong Il through the eyes of Tak Toyoshima, Secret Asian Man

by cartoonist Tak Toyoshima of Laura Ling and Euna Lee with Kim Jong Il looming over them.

I had to post this, although I haven’t had time to blog about the Asian American Journalists Association convention last week in Boston. This illustration was in the organization’s silent auction and I had to have it.

Cartoonist Tak Toyoshima, who draws the syndicated comic “Secret Asian Man,” drew this the day before the start of the convention, specially for the auction.

Since the recent release of journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee was so fresh in everyone’s minds, and the topic of “Journalists in Jeopardy,” including Ling and Lee but also Roxana Saberi, was the plenary session that kicked off the convention, the drawing seemed the perfect symbol of the spirit of the convention, and of the AAJA.

Euna Lee & Laura Ling thank-you video for supporters

This is a nice touch in the age of social media — direct communication with the people who supported their cause and hoped and prayed for their release with petitions, Facebook posts, Tweets and candlelight vigils.

It’s nice timing, since the plenary session for the first full day of the Asian American Journalism Association convention in Boston kicks off this morning with a session titled “Journalists in Jeopardy,” about the plight of reporters such as Euna Lee and Laura Ling, as well as Roxana Saberi.

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. Continue reading