Nearly a month after their release from North Korea, Laura Ling and Euna Lee are claiming that they were captured on Chinese soil after spending only "a minute" in North Korea. They also thank their supporters in a video.
Ling and Lee went to the China-North Korea border to document the plight of North Korean defectors. But activists in South Korea have criticized the journalists for putting both themselves and the defectors at risk by recklessly venturing too close to North Korea. In their statement, however, the journalists hint that their guide, an unnamed Chinese man, may have led them into a trap. They say they were never intending to leave China, but that the guide beckoned them across a river into North Korean territory, and they followed. They also say he made "deep, low hooting sounds," which they initially thought were signals to North Korean guards he knew who might help them.
But when Ling and Lee reached North Korean territory, they saw guards running toward them with rifles. They fled back to the Chinese side, but the guards captured them on Chinese soil and dragged them back into North Korea. It's not clear whether the guide — now in a Chinese prison — was working with the North Korean government to capture the journalists. Whatever the case, despite the guide's odd behavior (in addition to the hooting, he changed the starting point for their river crossing several times and put on a Chinese police coat before the crossing), Ling and Lee emphasize that "it was ultimately our decision to follow him."
Whether or not the guard had it in for them, it's obvious that the journalists' jailhouse "confession" (to "criminal acts ... prompted by the political motive to isolate and stifle the socialist system of the DPRK by faking up moving images aimed at falsifying its human rights performance and hurling slanders and calumnies at it") was as fake as it sounded. If they ever did confess, it was probably a calculated move to help secure their release, and they essentially repudiate the confession here:
The outcome of our three-day trial was never in doubt. In the end, we were convicted and sentenced to two years for trespassing and 10 years for "hostile acts." What did we do that was hostile? We tried to tell the story of repression and desperation in North Korea. It's not surprising, given the North Korean government's desire to silence any form of dissent, that the more extreme portion of the sentence was issued not for trespassing but for our work as journalists. Totalitarian regimes the world over are terrified of exposure.
Aid workers are concerned about video footage of defectors that North Korea may have obtained from Ling, Lee, and their producer. And Ling and Lee acknowledge that their capture may have led to a crackdown on border activity by both North Korea and China. Still, they are hopeful that their story will draw more international attention and aid to "despairing North Korean defectors who flee to China only to find themselves living a different kind of horror." And in the video below, they express gratitude to all those who supported them during their imprisonment.
Hostages Of The Hermit Kingdom [LA Times]
U.S. Journalists Say North Koreans Captured Them On Chinese Soil [Wall Street Journal]
Reporters Recount Arrest By North Korea [NYT]
Thank You From Laura And Euna [Current TV]