Journalists detained in DPRK Break Out the Violins!

by http://www.inquisitr.com/, 03/09/2009


CurrentTV journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling have finally spoken publicly about how they managed to end up in a North Korean jail, and the story is colorful to say the least.

If you’ve missed the story so far, Lee and Ling were arrested after they entered into North Korea back in March. Reports at the time claimed that they were “arrested on the border” and a chorus of voices decried how evil North Korea was in arresting them for seemingly doing little wrong. I’m not suggesting that North Korea isn’t evil, but as I noted previously the two weren’t arrested “on the border” they were arrested after illegally entering the country, a crime that should it have occurred on the United States border would have resulted in a not dissimilar outcome.

The pair though are still playing the innocent card with a story bordering on a B-grade movie script. To their credit, they admit crossing into North Korea….but claim it wasn’t their fault.

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"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. There were no signs marking the international border, no fences, no barbed wire. But we knew our guide was taking us closer to the North Korean side of the river. As he walked, he began making deep, low hooting sounds, which we assumed was his way of making contact with North Korean border guards he knew. The previous night, he had called his associates in North Korea on a black cellphone he kept for that purpose, trying to arrange an interview for us. He was unsuccessful, but he could, he assured us, show us the no-man’s land along the river, where smugglers pay off guards to move human traffic from one country to another.

When we set out, we had no intention of leaving China, but when our guide beckoned for us to follow him beyond the middle of the river, we did, eventually arriving at the riverbank on the North Korean side. He pointed out a small village in the distance where he told us that North Koreans waited in safe houses to be smuggled into China via a well-established network that has escorted tens of thousands across the porous border.

Feeling nervous about where we were, we quickly turned back toward China. Midway across the ice, we heard yelling. We looked back and saw two North Korean soldiers with rifles running toward us. Instinctively, we ran. We were firmly back inside China when the soldiers apprehended us. Producer Mitch Koss and our guide were both able to outrun the border guards. We were not. We tried with all our might to cling to bushes, ground, anything that would keep us on Chinese soil, but we were no match for the determined soldiers. They violently dragged us back across the ice to North Korea and marched us to a nearby army base, where we were detained. Over the next 140 days, we were moved to Pyongyang, isolated from one another, repeatedly interrogated and eventually put on trial and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor."

The contradictions come quickly in the story. On one hand “There were no signs marking the international border, no fences, no barbed wire” and yet “But we knew our guide was taking us closer to the North Korean side of the river.” So what relevance does fences and border markers have other than as an attempt to paint a picture that they didn’t know they were crossing into North Korea…which they then claim they knew anyway.

Then there’s this: “when our guide beckoned for us to follow him beyond the middle of the river, we did, eventually arriving at the riverbank on the North Korean side” followed by “Feeling nervous about where we were, we quickly turned back toward China.” But didn’t they say that there was no border marker? They knew they had entered North Korea because they hit land. But then it gets more colorful: “We were firmly back inside China when the soldiers apprehended us.” Again though: if border markers are relevant, how did they know where exactly they were again?
Then there’s the problem of who really was responsible. They lay the blame with the guide, but they weren’t forced across the river, they followed. It was a literal case of playing with fire, with them walking away seriously burned.

Other parts in their statement (not above) would suggest that they wanted to play the martyr card as well: “First and foremost, we believe that journalists have a responsibility to shine light in dark places, to give voice to those who are too often silenced and ignored.” But entering illegally into a totalitarian state with a zero tolerance for Western journalists, let alone American ones? That’s not good journalism, that’s just plain stupidity. They’re fortunate they were captured and jailed and not both shot on the spot.
On some levels you can’t help but feel sorry for the pair, and no doubt their ordeal in North Korea was harrowing. But their celebrity status comes not from some noble idea of shining light on dark places, but from their sheer stupidity and ability to spin a colorful story.

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