Two journalists arrested in North Korea this March found their sentences upheld by N. Korea’s highest court yesterday. The women were arrested for entering the country and for committing a “grave crime.” See news reports here and here.
One report claims the “grave crime” charged was spying. The Americans entered the country and spoke to refugees attempting to escape to China. Officials took the jouranlsits into custody when a border guard objected to being filmed. While it seems it should have been obvious that the women were in dangerous territory — this was hardly the French/Italian border — CNN’s report includes an indication that the women only decided to cross into North Korea after arriving at the border:
“When the girls left the United States, they never intended to cross into North Korean soil. And if they did at any point, we apologize,” Ling’s sister, Lisa, a special correspondent for CNN, said last week.
Relevant news reports characteristically refer to officials by their country names (making it difficult to know who among country officials are negotiating), but apparenty “North Korea” has encouraged America’s suggestion that Al Gore visit Pyongyang to discuss the journalists’ release. North Korea clearly hopes to use this incarceration as a bargaining chip with the United States.
(Note: Why Al Gore? Shouldn’t it be Hillary Clinton responsible for this relationship? This seems squarely within State affairs.)
The women were arrested in March and the highest Korean court only upheld their final — now unappealable — sentence this week. Between March and now US/North Korean relations have declined.
The ruling, nearly three months after their arrest, comes amid soaring tensions fueled by North Korea’s nuclear test last month and signs it is preparing for a long-range missile test. On Monday, North Korea warned fishing boats to stay away from the east coast, Japan’s coast guard said, raising concerns more missile tests are being planned.
North Korean courts sentenced these women to the harshest allowable sentence (12 years of hard labor), ostensibly as a response to America’s threats to erect more stringent trade sanctions and put N. Korea back on the list of most-watched state sponsors of terrorism.