Did North Korea arrest Laura Ling for her sister’s documentary?

By jes. on June 21, 2009

PARIS (Herald de Paris et Cie.) – Before Laura Ling and Euna Lee became household names for entirely the wrong reason; before North Korean missile tests; before UN resolutions for violations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Laura’s sister, investigative reporter Lisa Ling, sneaked into North Korea for The National Geographic Channel’s EXPLORER series, in 2006, posing as a member of a humanitarian eye surgery team.¬† The end result was a documentary titled, “Undercover in North Korea.”

Lisa’s hour-long Undercover in North Korea defied Kim Jong Il’s ban on outside journalists, and offered a glimpse of life above the 38th parallel previously unseen by the rest of the world.¬† What Lisa and her team reported was a North Korea fraught with humanitarian problems like famine, malnutrition, and almost non-existent healthcare.¬† The Citizens of North Korea were portrayed as having been all but brainwashed by fear.

It has long been known that Kim regularly punishes, arrests, or worse, members of entire families, when someone breaks one if his many laws.¬† This is his way of suppressing opposition to his rule.¬† It is, therefore, not inconceivable that Laura Ling was detained and subsequently convicted for her sister Lisa’s “grave crime against the Korean nation”.¬† Is it possible?¬† Everything is possible under Kim.

Much has been made of the harsh, 12-year sentence Laura Ling and Euna Lee were handed for what amounted to an illegal border crossing.¬† In most countries, such an offense garners little more than deportation, unless other crimes were committed on the infiltrated country’s soil.¬† What was so unique about¬† the possibility that Lisa Ling is being punished for her sister’s illegal entry and recording of North Korea is that¬† Lisa’s documentary, which has been pulled from the National Geographic website, might offer a clue about the sentence.

Lisa Ling’s undercover documentary discusses #22, a prisoner work camp where entire families are sent to work hard labor in a prisoner work mine.¬† Facilities like #22 are internment camps whose conditions are so poor that it is explained you have a better chance of dying than completing your sentence.¬† This is exactly the kind of work camp Laura Ling and Euna Lee were sentenced to spend the next twelve years in.

Be clear, Lisa Ling did not cause her sister to be arrested, and regardless the result holds no responsibility for the illegal and inhumane incarceration of her sister and Euna Lee.  However, trying to understand how the North Korean government might view the arrival of two American journalists, who may or may not have been trying to enter North Korea, offers a possible glimpse into how we may have arrived at this terrible situation.

There are innumerable reasons why Laura Ling and Euna Lee should be released, immediately.¬† If, however, they were convicted for “crimes” committed by Laura Ling’s sister, that needs to be reason #1.


Spelunker June 21, 2009

The arrest of Laura Ling and Euna Lee is primarily becasue they crossed the border illegally. That would be reason #1. Reason #2 would be the content of their videotapes which were confiscated. The fact that they were making a documentary of North Korean refugees in China would be the secondary reason supporting their long sentence. I don’t believe the National Geographic documentary by Laura’s sister factors into the equation at all. Before the trial, it ws already known by North Korea’s government that Laura is the sister of Lisa and yet Sweden’s ambassador in Pyongyang reported that both Laura and Euna were not harmed or mistreated.
Furthermore I do not believe that Laura and Euna will actually serve the full 12 years of their sentence or perform any hard labor. My opinion is shared by other analysts who monitor North Korea-US relations. They will most likely be used as leverage in ongoing negotiations with the US government despite efforts to separate their case as a humanitarian issue.

Alan Mairson June 21, 2009

Lisa Ling’s documentary has NOT been pulled from National Geographic’s web site. The DVD — Inside North Korea — is available here: http://tr.im/pfhc

Jes Alexander June 21, 2009

You are correct, Alan – however, once upon a time you could view it online, too. Perhaps they pulled it when they made it available for sale.

Debbie June 22, 2009

The National Geographic documentary is available for rental through NETFLIX. I’d seen it some time ago and have been wondering why this issue hasn’t been raised by any of the US media reporting on the story. No doubt the US media want’s to protect the journalists, but it seems obvious that the documentary played a role in their arrest. I feel for the women and their families, but wonder why Laura Ling would venture anywhere near the North Korean border after her sister’s report . Her behavior seems reckless to me.

Marsha June 23, 2009

Was Lisa on The Oprah Show with her documentary? This project of Lee and Laura LIng was frighteningly reckless considering the past activities of Laura’s sister. Why would Ling, a mother of a 4 year old take a risk like this? What don’t they understand about “no diplomatic relationship” with certain countries. They took an insane risk. Why should anyone in America feel responsible to rescue them??

fran June 23, 2009

I know its of little consequence now…but why would Lisa’s sister come within 1000 miles of that place after watching her sisters documentary…how does a place like North Korea exist in this day and age?…..its so frightening….they need to get these 2 outta there stat…..not even Oprah can help in this case….they need the very best negotiator that North Korea respects(does that even exist?!)…..there’s gotta be someone…..find them Now!

Debbie June 23, 2009

Does the Swedish ambassador actually get to see the women first hand? How does he/she know with certainty they are not being mistreated. It’s my understanding that the US doesn’t even know where the women are being held, so any statements about their well being seem questionable.

With regard to Marsha’s statement above, it’s Euna Lee who’s the mother of a 4 year old little girl, not Laura Ling, but couldn’t agree more with your sentiment. How sad this is for her daughter.

DWS June 25, 2009

It seems to me the poor judgment of relative inexperience is a factor here. Al Gore is no media mogul or journalist. And these relatively young women were clearly out of their depth in pursuing this story. Did either of them even major in journalism? Why is the unseasoned Ling a Vice President at Current TV?

I’m not blaming these people, but it seems to me anyone who has lived or worked in the world’s trouble zones would know better than to go too close to the North Korean border. One doesn’t get to take one’s American rights with her once she leaves U.S. borders. That just isn’t how the world works.

Nonetheless, I hope they are soon back in the States, out of that viper pit.

Alex Balic August 5, 2009

These reporters were arrested for illegally crossing the border into North Korea. It is really that simple, they took a chance, they lost. If they didn’t want to end up in a North Korean Prison, then they simply should have stayed out of North Korea. If they had applied for and received legal passage into North Korea and got arrested, then I would understand this story, but the fact is that they were there illegally, and got arrested- now they are “heros” or something, which I also do not understand- we have a bunch of illegal immigrants here in the US which we arrest every year for the same reason- lucky for them, all they receive for punishment is food, water, and a free trip back to where they come from. In North Korea, the punishment is more severe for the same crime- no real surprise there- hey they shoot people for tax evasion in China- the world is not as soft everywhere as it is in the US and Europe.

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