Laura Ling and Euna Lee Speak About Their North Korean Imprisonment

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Ling and Lee with their rescuer, President Clinton.
Ling and Lee with their rescuer, President Clinton. Photo: Getty Images

Current TV journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee are facing increasing criticism from South Korean and Chinese activists who fight on behalf of North Korean refugees in their countries. When the pair was apprehended and brought back to Pyongyang, they were in possession of videotapes and notes detailing their interviews with such refugees, and the people who harbor them. Though Lee and Ling say they did their best to destroy such records by damaging tapes and even eating notes, reports say that other tapes were confiscated by their producer, who managed to escape North Korean guardsmen but who was detained in China. At least five foster homes serving children of North Korean refugees were closed in China, and their organizer deported as a result, according to the Times, and several North Koreans they'd interviewed who were living in Seoul, South Korea, had to flee for fear of arrest. "We regret if any of our actions, including the high-profile nature of our confinement, has led to increased scrutiny of activists and North Koreans living along the border," the pair said in a statement on Current's website. "Our experiences pale when compared to the hardship facing so many people living in North Korea or as illegal immigrants in China."

Here are the sections of Ling and Lee's statement where they discuss how they were actually captured:


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 ...

We didn't spend more than a minute on North Korean soil before turning back, but it is a minute we deeply regret. To this day, we still don't know if we were lured into a trap. In retrospect, the guide behaved oddly, changing our starting point on the river at the last moment and donning a Chinese police overcoat for the crossing, measures we assumed were security precautions. But it was ultimately our decision to follow him, and we continue to pay for that decision today with dark memories of our captivity.

Much of the rest of the pair's statement focuses on the plight of people living under the despotic rule of Kim Jong Il, which they had sought to document. They hope, Ling and Lee wrote, that their own experiences didn't draw attention away from the hardship of so many others — rather, that it will bring more focus to it. Unfortunately, judging from today's coverage, it doesn't seem like that's the case.

Reporters Recount Arrest by North Korea [NYT]
LAURA LING AND EUNA LEE MAKE FIRST STATEMENT REGARDING EVENTS LEADING TO CAPTURE [Current]