June 10th, 2009
08:01 PM ET

Free Laura Ling and Euna Lee

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/06/08/nkorea.journalists/art.nk.demo.afp.gi.jpg caption="Demonstrators in South Korea last week call for the release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee."]

Arsalan Iftikhar | BIO
AC360° Contributor
Founder, TheMuslimGuy.com

Now that the ‘legal system’ in North Korea has ‘run its course’, it is imperative that the Obama administration help facilitate a diplomatic agreement, separate and exclusive of any nuclear non-proliferation discussions, to free American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee.

Ling, 32, and Lee, 36, both reporters for San Francisco-based Current TV, were sentenced after being accused of a ‘grave crime’ against the North Korean state, according to global media reports.

Their sentence: 12 years in a North Korean labor camp. Their families in the United States are now anxiously hoping the U.S. government can help negotiate a diplomatic rapprochement that will help bring the detained journalists home.

The San Jose Mercury News reported that concern about the women's safety grew more intense when the rogue nation threatened to use nuclear weapons in a "merciless offensive" if provoked. Meanwhile, North Korea's critics in the West — including John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations — decried the capture as a "kidnapping" and an "act of state terror."

According to the Boston Globe, both Ling and Lee were investigating a story for Current TV on alleged North Korean defectors to China when they were apprehended by North Korean soldiers on March 17. They were charged with crossing the border from China with intent to commit "hostile acts." Still, for many within the international community, the circumstances of their arrest remain quite unclear. Human rights observers and members of the press were not allowed to attend their trial, and therefore it is hard to know if they actually crossed the border, or if they had even done so inadvertently.

Gotham Chopra, a former Current TV colleague and close friend of Laura Ling (who is the sister of former The View co-host Lisa Ling) has written extensively on their case for Intent.com. Chopra told me the current incarceration of the American women and this “situation should not be tied into the larger geo-political one in which North Korea's nuclear tests are involved.” Chopra went on to say that “President Obama has a rapidly evolving ‘hostage crisis’ on his hands and his steadfast belief that diplomacy can resolve any conflict will be tested by dealings with a regime that really has shown little in the way of predictability.”

This case is similar to that of detained American journalist Roxana Saberi who was imprisoned in Iran but was released last month. It is essential to our global conversation that international journalists of all colors, races and religions never be harmed (in any way) within any corner of the world. Upholding the noble pursuits to journalism, Euna Lee and Laura Ling were just trying to help give a voice to those who have been voiceless for far too long.

Editor’s Note: Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer, founder of http://www.TheMuslimGuy.com and is a contributing editor for Islamica magazine in Washington.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Arsalan Iftikhar • Human Rights • North Korea
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Fuyuko

    Laura and Euna are TV journalists, aren't they? When they did the investigative reporting, where were their colleagues – cameramen? Why only these two women journalists were nabbed for the so-called 'crossing the border from China with intent to commit hostile act'? It happened near North Korea and coincidentally, these two journalists are of Asian ancestry. Scratching my head left, right and centre, I still find the fact that people get themselves into deep trouble while on duty unacceptable. Another question is. Would these journalists be so innocent of not knowing it's a huge offence to cross border illegally, worse still, with intent of committing hostile act? Funnily, how do we define whether a person comes with ill intentions? There is something fishy about this case. Let's hope that Laura and Euna can return home, very, very soon.

    June 11, 2009 at 10:32 am |
  2. Naryssya

    What can the American people do to help??????

    June 11, 2009 at 9:51 am |