U.S. journalists under ‘intense interrogation’ in Pyongyang

This is the price a journalist pays for trying to report the truth about North Korea, away from the regime’s guided tours. The information about the whereabouts of Euna Lee and Laura Ling comes from South Korean “human intelligence” sources in the North, so don’t take this at face value:

After being questioned at the security command, Lee and Ling were reportedly taken to Pyongyang last Wednesday. Each was put in a separate vehicle so that there would be no communication between them. According to South Korean sources, the journalists are being questioned at closed-off quarters under the auspices of the command near Pyongyang. One source said, “Our intelligence tells us that since this involved border security, the command wants to physically detain the journalists. Another source said there is also a distinct possibility that once the current round of questioning is complete, the journalists will be handed over to the National Security Defense Agency, the North’s top intelligence unit.

The sources said U.S. officials were appreciative of South Korea’s quick effort and specific information. They also said Korea told the U.S. that the North is likely trying to get the journalists to admit to espionage at the border. According to the sources, given the North’s relentless style of questioning and investigation, Lee and Ling will have little choice but to reveal what they saw and heard.

When their capture first became known, the journalists were said to be on a trip to report on the plight of North Korean refugees, and their reports on the refugees or footage of North Korean territory could work against them.

The South Korean intelligence community believes the charges against the journalists will likely be espionage because they crossed the border. It’s a felony that could result in a minimum of 20 years in prison in North Korea.

One source said, “The North will film all of its questioning of the journalists and will prepare for negotiations with the United States.

The source said the North could get the Americans to say they had spied on tape but will release them anyway, which would make the move seem like a goodwill gesture on the North’s part. [Joongang Ilbo]

In Pyongyang, investigators were poring over the two American journalists’ notebooks, videotapes and cameras amid allegations they “illegally intruded” into North Korean territory and were spying on the regime’s military facilities, the JoongAng Ilbo said. [AP, Jean H. Lee]

Well, if you’re a glass-half-full sort, being detained and interrogated incommunicado in the world’s most totalitarian state generates nothing but good will if all ends happily, and for an affordable ransom! Rosemary, book us three more of those guided tours of Pyongyang! But there are always a few people who must just hate peace:

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders called for the journalists’ immediate release, and urged China and North Korea to clarify where the women were detained. Their capture in China would violate international law, the group’s Asia-Pacific Desk chief said.

“It’s a kidnapping; it’s not an arrest,” Vincent Brossel told reporters in Seoul. “It’s a new case of kidnapping by the North Korean regime against civilians, in this case journalists.”

I’m not going to use the term “kidnapping” until I know which side of the border the women were on, but it’s nice to see reporters showing some agitation about North Korea imprisoning someone for once.

Video here.

20 Comments

  1. i certainly don’t want any harm done to the girls and abhor any sort of violence both physically and/or mentally.

    but i am going on the assumption that the girls knew the risks of what they were doing. if they didn’t, shame on them.

    but if weeks turn into months and their loved ones ask for help from other heavyweights (i.e. oprah, other hollywood types), i would love to see the PR war between KJI and the rest of the world, or at least the US.

    i would love to see the type of awareness that the Daniel Pearl situation brought.




    0



    0
  2. Oprah is an excellent possibility (I hope): She featured Lisa Ling’s National Geographic special “Inside North Korea” and, per Wikipedia, Lisa Ling is a “special correspondent for the Oprah Winfrey Show”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lisa_Ling.

    By the way, does anyone know if Lisa Ling has said anything about her sister Laura’s situation?




    0



    0
  3. I am sure they knew the risk they were taking to get the truth out about North Korea. I wish there was more attention to this situation. Unfortately, the human rights situation in North Korea and the refugees are not a popluar story. The Obama adminisration doesn’t seem to want to get the North Korean government mad, even more than the Bush adminisration. Plus some in the press can be too soft, or even, sympathic to countries like North Korea. I see us either caving to North Korea’s demands to get them released or doing nothing and they will end up in a North Korea jail for a long time.




    0



    0
  4. I agree. Our DPRK foreign policy as it stands now can be summarized in a few simple words: we (US) want you (DPRK) to get rid of your (DPRK) nuclear capability – in turn, we (US) will remain silent about your (DPRK) concentration camps… (this is outrageous and unconscionable to say the least).
    Our dealings with the DPRK must change if we are to break the shameful silence re: concentration camps – as stated before, a “tear down this wall” moment would be a welcome “change” to this silence.




    0



    0
  5. It is not a story because it was her stupidity and arrogance that got her arrested for traveling into a communist country to spy on them. Now she will do the time.
    And yes, when you go to a country that you have no permission to enter…to show perceived conditions of that country…that is spying. They do this for Al Gore and Oprah who are sitting home and sipping Margaritas.

    If they strap her to the rocket they are going to launch, It will make Laura their first space cadet.




    0



    0
  6. We don’t know what the facts are yet. Three possibilities: (1) they were on the Chinese side according to some reports, which would qualify as an international abduction; (2) they accidentally wandered into North Korea, perhaps led by their guide; (3) they deliberately entered NK, in which case I’d agree to an extent with the sentiment that they took an unwarranted risk.




    0



    0
  7. I think you’re wait-and-see attitude is appropriate. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to consider their likelihood.

    If they had been on the Chinese side, this is something that the Chinese would have been able to piece together from the two women’s colleague, Mitch Koss, who managed not to get caught (and the fact that he, one of the two who lagged behind, did not get captured by NK authorities may indicate that the two men and the two women were in different jurisdictions).

    Now if Lee and Ling had been captured on PRC soil and the Chinese knew this, wouldn’t they be likely to demand — quietly or publicly — that the DPRK give those two back? We’ve seen that PRC guards have little qualm about going onto foreign soil in the form of diplomatic missions, but they’re not much for the concept of what’s good for the goose is good for the gander: the PRC can cross the line and abduct people, but others cannot cross the line into the PRC and abduct anyone. Not even the DPRK.

    Had this been the actual scenario, I think we wouldn’t have heard about it until the men and women were all safe — outside of both the PRC and DPRK.

    As for the second option, that they accidentally wandered into North Korea, I just don’t see how one can accidentally cross a riverbed that wide, even if there were little water or it was largely frozen over.

    Given the lack of protest or apparent pressure by the PRC, option number three, that they deliberately entered, seems the most likely scenario. But I’m not married to that one, as I certainly don’t see it as the only possibility.

    As you said, wait-and-see is the most appropriate approach. And as foolish as I believe these three Americans likely behaved, even if they knowingly and deliberately crossed into the DPRK and got caught, the US probably should work out how to get them out. That, of course, is why their actions piss me off.




    0



    0
  8. “Now if Lee and Ling had been captured on PRC soil and the Chinese knew this, wouldn’t they be likely to demand — quietly or publicly — that the DPRK give those two back? We’ve seen that PRC guards have little qualm about going onto foreign soil in the form of diplomatic missions, but they’re not much for the concept of what’s good for the goose is good for the gander: the PRC can cross the line and abduct people, but others cannot cross the line into the PRC and abduct anyone. Not even the DPRK. “

    Apparently you are not a regular reader of OFK or you would know about the kidnapping, torture, and murder of South Korean missionary Kim Dong-shik. The Chinese despise the Western media and human rights advocates. The Chinese government would wink at DPRK soldiers crossing the river to snatch a couple of pesky American journalists and give them a good scare before releasing them back into Chinese custody.




    0



    0
  9. The Chinese also don’t want anyone – reporters or even official members of UN-sanctioned human rights groups – going to the border area and reporting on the plight of North Korean refugees – whom China refuses to call refugees.

    Every time footage and news from the border area – concerning life inside NK and the status of refugees hiding in China – gains world attention, it brings pressure onto China’s sponsoring of the tyrannical regime in Pyongyang.

    If China got angry about NK guards going into Chinese territory, it’d rebuke them behind closed doors.

    However, if the US and world media – not to mention the US government – or even Al Gore – they do work for him, right? – were out in public right now screaming about this case, China would lean on Pyongyang to get the two freed quickly – again because the more the world focuses on North Korea’s tyranny, the worse it is for China.

    But, we aren’t hearing much about this — which means the ball is in Kim Jong Il’s court and he has a lot more leeway in what he can do with them than if this were an international scandal.




    0



    0
  10. Allow me to offer a theory — purely speculative and unproven — for your consideration.

    North Korea has a large number of spies who operate in China, with (and to some extent, probably without) the consent of the Chinese government. The North Korean regime knows about the border smuggling and trafficking rackets, and probably has penetrated many of the networks to some extent. The Chinese also help the North Korean regime in doing this, and both security services cooperate.

    Thus, it’s reasonable to assume that before Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee even got to northeast China, the Chinese government knew exactly who they were, where they were going, and why. Not long afterward, the North Koreans also probably knew. And it’s quite plausible that someone made the connection between Laura Ling and Lisa Ling, whose recent NatGeo piece had portrayed North Korea in an extremely negative light. After all, commenters at this humble site made the connection within hours of the news being reported. Furthermore, North Korea was ratcheting up tensions and looking for “bargaining chips,” which more honest observers would refer to as “hostages.”

    Who would make better hostages than reactionary journalists who tell imperialist lies about the workers’ paradise?

    How better to obtain said hostages than by having a Chinese “guide” lead him across a dry riverbed and into the loving arms of the Dear Leader?

    I can’t prove it, but I suspect it. That’s why I’m withholding judgment until we know the circumstances a little better.




    0



    0
  11. I can more easily picture the North Korean infiltration of the underground groups and local government in the region.

    But, I don’t know about higher up in the Chinese government.

    Holding the reporters is a bargaining chip for Pyongyang but a major headache for Beijing. If the Chinese higher ups knew these people were reporters and were going to that region to report on the refugees, I’d think it more likely the Chinese government would have blocked their access or deported them or detained them themselves — rather than risk seeing this blown into an international incident.

    You never know with authoritarian governments — but I don’t see where China would have thought it was in its interests to allow the North Koreans to take these people – whether on Chinese or North Korean territory at the border – if they could have prevented the reporters from going to the area in the first place.




    0



    0
  12. Sonagi wrote:
    Apparently you are not a regular reader of OFK or you would know about the kidnapping, torture, and murder of South Korean missionary Kim Dong-shik. The Chinese despise the Western media and human rights advocates. The Chinese government would wink at DPRK soldiers crossing the river to snatch a couple of pesky American journalists and give them a good scare before releasing them back into Chinese custody.

    You’re right about me not having been a regular OFK reader. I used to read it a lot, but time constraints over studies and family matters forced me to pare down my once wide-ranging reads. But I like this blog, even if I don’t agree with everything, and I find even parts I disagree with to be intellectually challenging. Plus, the OFK folks are generally very polite in how they discuss things. No MH whine cellar is this place.

    At any rate, I do know that abductions like that of Kim Dong-shik (and I’m not even sure if I first read about it here) do occur, and the result should remind me and others not to be so glib about what could happen to Ling and Lee.

    But while considering that such a thing as abduction is possible, let’s look at this case and how likely that is, based on what we know. If the NorKs were going to abduct them anyway, why wait until they’re at the border, especially if you don’t know they really are coming to the border? Unless something like what Joshua suggested is true, that they were led by a NorK accomplice to the border area.

    More to the point, if the NorKs were crossing into China to get “hostages,” why wouldn’t they also get Mitch Koss? If they’re already encroaching onto PRC soil, what is the problem with getting that third person? To me, that they didn’t get the third person but the PRC authorities did (right?), that indicates that the DPRK guards probably did not cross into the PRC. Probably (but I wouldn’t put anything past them).

    usinkorea wrote:

    Holding the reporters is a bargaining chip for Pyongyang but a major headache for Beijing. If the Chinese higher ups knew these people were reporters and were going to that region to report on the refugees, I’d think it more likely the Chinese government would have blocked their access or deported them or detained them themselves — rather than risk seeing this blown into an international incident.

    That makes sense to me as well.

    As you suggest, the Chinese don’t want to be embarrassed by these reporters’ activities, so if they got wind of what they were doing, it would make far more sense for the PRC to deal with them (e.g., by deportation from China) rather than having them get up close to the DPRK border and having the NorK guards get them — regardless of which side of the Tumen they were on.




    0



    0
  13. I don’t think the DPRK preplanned the kidnapping in consultation with the PRC. I do think that if DPRK soldiers strayed a few meters over the imaginary border line in the middle of the river, the PRC would not intervene. I don’t see how the DPRK’s hostage-taking is a “major headache” for the PRC. It is a major headache for the US to negotiate for their safe return.




    0



    0
  14. Well, Sonagi, the status quo is sort of one where North Korea is to some degree answerable to the PRC. But at some point North Korea engaging in such egregious acts against US citizens demonstrates that China doesn’t have the situation under control, which opens the door for justifiable American responses to North Korea’s behavior that don’t involve working with China. That cannot be something China wants to happen.




    0



    0
  15. How is any of this not in China’s interests? Does China love a free press? Does it have affection for our country or its values? Does it seek the unification of Korea as a democracy on its border? Does it want America to confront North Korea with a clear and focused reaction to a missile test? Has it really exerted a positive influence on North Korea’s behavior or complied with U.N. resolutions like 1695 and 1718? Has it been helpful in preventing North Korean proliferation, or discouraging its nuclear test?

    China means us ill, and it means our nosy journalists ill in particular.




    0



    0
  16. China means us ill, and it means our nosy journalists ill in particular.

    Do you think you need to convince me of any of that?

    China loves to have America get poked in the eye. But China is party to a status quo where China keeps its sphere of influence (e.g., DPRK) under control and the US keeps its sphere of influence (e.g., South Korea and Japan) under control. If China shows that it can’t do that, then there is the real risk of Washington saying “screw it” to the status quo and going after North Korea on its own.

    If these women were kidnapped, and not detained while in DPRK territory, then China is closer to that tipping point than it was before.




    0



    0
  17. My thinking is somewhat in line with Kushibo’s here – and why I think Japan should shoot the missile down – or the US if Japan didn’t want to.

    I think I explained why here the other day – or maybe it was elsewhere…anyway…the basic idea is the one behind the US mega-show of force after the axe murder incident in 1976: it is useful to show Pyongyang that you will not be pushed around – to make them think you can be as “crazy” as they are.

    It is even more useful now to make China worry about how the US might lead the world community to act in response to the latest North Korean provocation.

    Today, China needs a friendly world, (and the friendly world economies believe they need China).

    China always has Tibet as a possible thorn in its side as an international issue. It also has periodic public issues with its own human rights problems. — In short, it has warts that already get thrown into the public eye from time to time…

    …it doesn’t need a rouge North Korea causing much negative attention to be thrown on China as well.

    So, China does have an interest in curbing the worst of Pyongyang’s inclinations.

    But — and this is a big but —- the United States has to be willing to drag China into the picture – to turn the pressure up on China as well as North Korea – for this pressure point to be utilized.

    And the US rarely has the inclination to do that.

    We’re barely raising an eyebrow with the missile test – and doing nothing on the journalists.




    0



    0
  18. And yes, when you go to a country that you have no permission to enter…to show perceived conditions of that country…that is spying.

    This is bullshit.

    A – say – French reporter crossing the border with Italy, or a Mexican reporter into the United States, to report on conditions there by interviewing its citizens is — an immigration issue —— not some national security one of spying.

    To call what these reporters did – even if they did cross into North Korea – as spying is ultimately excuse the tyranny of the North Korean state:

    The regime makes its entire territory a tyrannical police state – held together by fear and death and ignorance of the outside world – and by keeping the outside world ignorant of what goes on inside its hellhole – and we are supposed to go along with that by calling what these reporters might have done spying…?

    ….when the actions they might have done, again, if done pretty much anywhere else in the world would have been a violation of immigration rules — not a threat to national security.

    Next, on putting the North Koreans interviewed in jeopardy — I can see this point slightly – but the fact is that the handful of documentaries done on the border area and with refugees are one of the few somewhat effective means at gaining some world attention to this problem. — or in other words — silence is much worse for a greater number of people than possibly putting the lives of the refugees in more danger than they already live with having left the motherland for the limbo existence in Manchuria.

    Also, the refugees can refuse to talk to them if it significantly increases their fear. It seems to me that most of the refugees in the documentaries I’ve seen do the interviews because they want people to know about what they have lived through under the tyranny of Pyongyang.




    0



    0
  19. “But at some point North Korea engaging in such egregious acts against US citizens demonstrates that China doesn’t have the situation under control, which opens the door for justifiable American responses to North Korea’s behavior that don’t involve working with China. That cannot be something China wants to happen. “

    China knows that the US is not going to take any kind of forceful action against the DPRK in response to its hostage-taking. I think Joshua’s theory about the journalists being led across the border is the most plausible, but I would not rule out DPRK soldiers intruding into Chinese territory.




    0



    0