Friday, July 24, 2009

Journalists in Danger -- A Vigil for Two U.S. Journalists Arrested in North Korea

"I think political boundaries don't really understand the cultural synthesis that's going on. And I could see that maybe a young woman from Korea or Iran more probably would come to America and be arrested as a spy if she got herself in the wrong situation." -- Sharon Kornely, speaker at the vigil.

Journalists covering areas in conflict who enter territory controlled by combative government forces, rebels or criminals face extraordinary risks, especially if they lack proper accreditation. They can be arrested by government soldiers. They may be kidnapped or killed by armed insurgents.

One reason reporters become targets for attack is that they are often perceived to be focusing on the negative, trying to uncover stories of human rights abuses and other criminal activities. Two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, were arrested in March by North Korean authorities and charged with espionage after they were alleged to have entered the country illegally. They were gathering material for a television report about allegations of human trafficking. In June, after a secret trial, a North Korean court sentenced them to 12 years in a labor camp.

This report highlights a recent vigil in Washington, D.C., by people seeking the two journalists’ release. Friends and supporters are also sending postcards and other messages urging political leaders around the world to press North Korea to pardon the women and let them return home.

Another U.S. journalist, freelancer Roxana Saberi, was detained in January in Iran, and sentenced to 8 years in jail for cooperating with an enemy government before being suddenly released after four months in jail. In her case, constant political and public pressure probably helped to secure her freedom.

In another recent case, the New York Times newspaper revealed that it had kept quiet about the fate of Times reporter David Rohde, who was kidnapped earlier this year by the Taliban. The newspaper also repeatedly asked other news media not to report on the kidnapping, and they complied. New York Times executives explained their actions by saying they were afraid that if too much publicity surrounded the case, and ransom was not paid, their reporter would be beheaded. Rohde apparently escaped from his Taliban captors in June after more than seven months in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says that in 2008, 42 journalists were murdered because of their work, 11 of them in Iraq.

This radio report by Fid Thompson highlights a Cameroonian journalist who won the 2009 Courage in Journalism Award. Ange Taile continues to report about human rights abuses and corruption despite receiving death threats, and having once been "abducted by hooded men, beaten severely and left for dead in a ravine."