Laura Ling and Euna Lee, reporters with Current TV, were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor this morning – the maximum sentence under law. The five-day trial yielded a verdict of guilt for the “grave crime” of illegally crossing into North Korea, the Korea Central News Agency reported, according to MSNBC. The English version of the story, at least, has not yet made it to the KCNA’s website, where the lead story involves Kim Jong Il’s visit to Kosan Fruit Farm.
The sentence is being called “reform through labor,” and no other details are provided. Under North Korean law, the two journalists will be moved to prison within 10 days of the verdict. Lee and Ling are unable to appeal, as they have already been convicted by the country’s highest court: the decisions are final. The trial was not open to the public, and representatives from the Swedish Embassy, which acts as a liaison for many western nations, was not permitted to observe.
Yet, this may not be the end of the road.
There are some analysts who believe that the conviction is part of a greater negotiating ploy in North Korea, which is effectively holding the journalists hostage in order to gain concessions, such as humanitarian aid. If the isolated nation gets what it wants, Lee and Ling would likely receive pardons. Of course, the “nuclear issue” remains in the background, as well.
Though little has been released about the circumstances of the journalists’ apprehension, it has been revealed that the two were investigating and reporting on human trafficking along the border. What is not clear, however, is whether they actually crossed into North Korea.