North Korea's state news agency says a court has sentenced two female American journalists to 12 years of hard labor.
The Korean Central News Agency said Monday that the court found the two
women guilty of committing an unspecified "grave crime" and illegally
crossing into North Korea.
Last Thursday, North Korean state media announced the start of the
trial of Euna Lee and Laura Ling, reporters for the U.S. media company
North Korean authorities arrested Lee and Ling in March while they were
working on a story near the Chinese-North Korean border.
The White House said in a statement Monday that President Barack Obama
is "deeply concerned" about the reported sentencing and is using "all
possible channels" to secure their release.
The U.S. State Department urged North Korea to immediately release the two women on humanitarian grounds.
Spokesman Ian Kelly said during Monday's State Department briefing that
there is no "overt indication" North Korea is using the women as pawns.
He said Pyongyang has not put forward any demands to be met in exchange
for their release.
Kelly added that Sweden's ambassador, who represents U.S. interests in
North Korea, has requested a meeting with North Korean authorities to
clarify Monday's sentencing.
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson said in television interviews
Monday that he remains optimistic diplomacy might convince North Korea
to free the journalists. Richardson helped secure North Korea's release
of a U.S. citizen and a captured U.S. helicopter pilot in the 1990s as
U.N. ambassador. He said Pyongyang is engaged in what he called a
"high-stakes poker game" [with the United States].
Last week, before the trial began, relatives and supporters of Lee and
Ling held candlelight vigils in several U.S. cities and pleaded for
Since their arrests, political analysts have speculated that North
Korea may use the pair as a diplomatic bargaining chip in disputes with
the United States.
The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has dismissed the charges against the reporters as "baseless."