For Immediate Release:
Dave Aeikens, SPJ President, (320) 255-8744,
Scott Leadingham, SPJ Communications Coordinator, (317) 927-8000 ext. 211,
INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists is calling on North Korea to release two American journalists held since March 17. The government announced Friday it would prosecute the pair, captured near the North Korean-Chinese border last month.
Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who work for California-based Current TV, were filming a documentary about the plight of North Korean female refugees in the border region.
“North Korea needs to stop this jockeying for attention and release Ling and Lee immediately,” said SPJ President Dave Aeikens. “The government is doing itself a disservice by showing the rest of the world just how little it values openness and basic press freedoms.”
Some reports indicate the journalists and their cameraman and guide may have been in Chinese territory, where they were legally allowed, when North Korean border guards crossed and captured them at gunpoint. The cameraman and guide were not detained.
The situation is complicated by the fact that Laura Ling is the sister of journalist Lisa Ling, whose “Inside North Korea” documentary for National Geographic three years ago exposed government abuses at the hands of President Kim Jong Il. It is possible North Korea could use that documentary and its criticism of the government as reason to bolster frivolous charges against Ling and Lee.
“We urge the U.S. State Department to continually advocate for these two and work for their release,” said Aeikens.
U.S. officials have been working with the Swedish government to intercede, as the U.S. and North Korea have no formal diplomatic relations.
This is the second case of imprisoned U.S. journalists SPJ has advocated for recently. Freelance journalist Roxana Saberi has been held in Iran since late January and was sentenced last week to eight years for espionage. Saberi, whose father is Iranian, has reported for NPR, the BBC and Fox News. She has lived in Iran for six years. Read a past statement from SPJ on the Saberi case here.
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.