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U.S. journalists sentenced to 12 years hard labour

Euna Lee, left, and Laura Ling
Euna Lee, left, and Laura Ling

AP via CPJ

U.S. journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling have been sentenced to 12 years of hard labour in North Korea after a closed-door trial from 4 to 8 June, report the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the International Press Institute (IPI) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The decision was met with outrage by governments, journalists and human rights groups across the world, after North Korea's highest court found Lee and Ling guilty of entering the country illegal and carrying out "hostile acts" on 17 March.

Both journalists work for the California-based web television station Current TV and were putting together a story on the trafficking of North Korean women across the border. Before leaving the U.S., Lee and Ling told family members they would not enter North Korea. The women's families believe the two journalists accidentally crossed the border.

IPI, IFJ and CPJ report that the sentence is likely a politically motivated one - several news stories suggest the women may be used as a bargaining tool for a government facing possible sanctions in relation to recent missile and nuclear tests.

IPI argued the decision was "orchestrated by a government to punish innocent journalists for international criticism of North Korea's own actions.''

The journalists are being held in a government house outside of Pyongyang, and have been allowed contact with their families and the ambassador of the Swedish embassy in North Korea, who say the women have not been physically mistreated, CPJ reports.

The women's families have sent a statement to North Korea's government pleading for clemency, noting that Ling, 32, has health issues and Lee's four-year-old daughter is showing "signs of anguish over the absence of her mother."

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