June 8, 2009 - Updated on January 20, 2016

American reporters get “very severe” 12-year sentences designed to scare all foreign journalists

Reporters Without Borders is appalled by the sentences of 12 years of “reform through labour” which a North Korean court passed today on American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee after convicting them in a sham trial of an unspecified “grave crime” and illegally entering the country.

“These 12-year sentences are a terrible shock for all those who have repeatedly insisted on their innocence,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The sentences are much more severe than anything we had imagined. The authorities in Pyongyang must urgently reverse this decision and allow Ling and Lee to rejoin their families.”

The sentences were clearly designed to scare journalists trying to do investigative reporting in the border area between China and North Korea, which is ranked as Asia’s worst country in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

The North Korean state-run news agency KCNA announced today that the trial of Ling and Lee before the country’s top court, which began on 4 June, had “confirmed the grave crime they committed against the Korean nation" and their "illegal border crossing.”

Arrested on 17 March 2009, Ling and Lee were initially accused of “hostile activities” as well as entering the country illegally. The two journalists, who work for the California-based web television station Current TV, had approached the border from inside China in order to cover the trafficking of North Korean women across the border. Their guide is being held by the Chinese authorities. Ling is of Chinese origin and Lee is of Korean origin.

Reporters Without Borders took part in recent rallies in support of the two journalists. Ling’s sister, Lisa Ling, said: “I will say with absolute certainty that, when they left US soil, they never intended to cross the border into North Korea. If at any point they did, we are truly sorry and we know the girls are too.”

Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, who was recently detained for three months in Iran, said in a message of support: “Laura and Euna, I pray that you remain strong and know that neither your families nor you are alone. I hope that a way will be found to return both of you to your families as soon as possible.”