The trial date is tomorrow for Asian American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee who were arrested March 17 by North Korean border guards while on assignment for San Francisco based Current TV, a media venture of former Vice President Al Gore.
Candlelight vigils are being held tomorrow throughout the U.S. coinciding with the beginning of the trial in North Korea. (Tomorrow evening June 3 in U.S. time zones is June 4 in the North Korean time zone)
Until now the families of Ling and Lee remained silent, in hope that their loved ones would be released through diplomatic channels. But that has changed, and they have now gone public.
Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee, their cameraman Mitch Koss and their Korean Chinese guide had entered China to interview North Korean defectors living along the PRC-DPRK border near the Tumen River. According to JoongAng Ilbo, a Seoul based newspaper, they were detained by North Korean border guards on March 17 as they were walking along the shallow Tumen River into North Korea. Although Koss and the Korean Chinese guide were able to escape capture by the North Koreans, Koss was detained by Chinese Border guards, and released.
North Korea has stated “they’re suspected of hostile acts”, and has charged them with spying and illegally crossing the border. Their trial date is set for June 4. If found guilty, they could be served a sentence of five to ten years in prison.
With the trial date looming, yesterday, Lisa Ling talked to Matt Lauer on The Today Show about her sister Laura and Laura’s colleague producer Euna Lee. Click here to see the interview. Ling was joined by her parents, Laura’s husband Iain Clayton, Lee’s husband Michael Saldate and the couple’s 4-year-old daughter Hannah.
During yesterday’s Daily Press Briefing in Washington DC, Robert Wood, Deputy Department Spokesman, U.S. Department of State, answered questions regarding the status of Laura Ling and Euna Lee.
QUESTION: Yeah, on North Korea.
MR. WOOD: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, on North Korea, the journalists in North Korea. Do you have an update on two U.S. journalists?
MR. WOOD: Yeah. My understanding is that the Swedish ambassador, who is – represents – who is our protecting power in Pyongyang, visited with the two journalists today, he had a separate visit with each of them.
MR. WOOD: Yes, today, June 1. And I don’t have – there’s not much I can say about the visit because there are privacy considerations. But as you know, he also met with the two journalists on, I believe, March 15 – excuse me, May 15 and then March 30. And so we’re going to continue our efforts to try to gain their release. This is a high priority for the President and the Secretary, and we’re going to continue doing what we can to see them back with their families. But that’s the only update I have for you on that.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that North Korea is going to make these journalists a pawn in this whole nuclear crisis?
MR. WOOD: Well, they should not. They need to release these two Americans. The whole nuclear issue is a separate one, and we’re going to continue to work to try to get their release.
QUESTION: Any plans to send anyone? Is there any talk of a delegation to go over there just for this? I know you’re trying to separate the nuclear and this. Is there –
MR. WOOD: No, there is not.
QUESTION: Do you think that would be helpful to send someone of high stature?
MR. WOOD: What would be helpful would be for the North to release the two journalists.
QUESTION: Just related to that. On the Today Show this morning, the families of the journalists spoke out, and the sister, Lisa Ling, actually urged the two governments to communicate better. So is there any response to that request from –
MR. WOOD: Well, we’re in communication through, as I’ve said, the Swedish protecting power. And I know that the Swedish ambassador has been trying over and over and over again to gain access, and it was only recently that he was able to get that second visit that we were trying to arrange.
So, look, we’ve made very clear, and other countries as well have spoken to this issue, that these two journalists need to be released. And that’s what our efforts are geared toward right now. And we’ll continue to do that.
On May 21, five vigils were held across the U.S. in solidarity for the two women and their release.
At the New York vigil, Angie Wang, Laura Ling’s cousin, read an excerpt of the only communication that the family had received to date, a letter dated May 15.
When I first got here, I cried so much. Now, I cry less. I try very hard to think about positive things, but sometimes it is hard too. Some days I get to go outside and get some fresh air. In the early evening, I do some stretching. I also sit and meditate. I breathe deeply and think about positive things that have happened in the day. For example, I think “I’m lucky I made it through another day.” I’m lucky my family is working so hard to get me released. I’m thinking about you all constantly and how fortunate I am to have an amazing family. Stay strong and please take care of yourselves. That is my request. Know that I’m thinking of you and dreaming about being reunited with you all again.
All my love,
Since then, the families have spoken to the women once.
Please come show your support for their release at one of eight vigils being held on Wednesday, June 3 (which is the date of the trial in North Korea), throughout the country. We hope to help influence a positive outcome for Laura and Euna. Supporters are asked to please bring candles to the vigils.
New York, N.Y.
Washington Square Park (The Fountain)
6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
If it rains, the vigil will be in the NYU School of Journalism, 20 Cooper Square, 7th Floor.
14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue
6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Chinatown Square Plaza
Cermack and Wentworth Streets
7:30 pm – 8:30 pm
Linn Park (tentatively)
223 Carrington Lane
7:00 pm – 10:00 pm
South Park Blocks
SW Park Avenue from Salmon Street to Jackson Street
6:30 pm – 8:00 pm
San Francisco, Ca.
Front Steps of San Francisco City Hall
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Santa Monica, Ca.
1413 5th Street
7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Where: L Wine Lounge & Urban Kitchen / California State Capitol Park
Address: 1801 L Street, Sacramento, CA
Phone: (916) 443-6970
National Organizer: Brendan Creamer 215.699.4338