Journalists Held in North Korea Ask First Lady Obama’s Help

by Joseph G. Lariosa

CHICAGO (July 22) -–  Asian American journalist Euna Lee is appealing to those supporting her release from detention in North Korea to write First Lady Michelle Obama to seek her help “as a mother” in pressing her and her fellow American journalist Laura Ling’s release from detention.

Ms. Lee’s message was relayed by her husband, Michael Saldate, during brief remarks at the Third Chicago Vigil and Candlelight Prayer Sunday (July 19) at the 124th day of their captivity where participants planted symbolic 124 flowers at the Peace Garden at the Old St. Patrick’s Church at 700 West Adams in Chicago. One hundred of these flowers were donated by ABC 7’s broadcast journalist Linda Yu. It is also the 15th vigil nationwide.

As Saldate thanked everybody for coming out and giving support for calls for the North Korean government to release his wife, Euna Lee, and Laura Ling from detention, by granting them amnesty as proposed by U.S. State Secretary Hillary Clinton, he mentioned the latest message he received from his wife, suggesting that she is appealing to all mothers to write a letter to First Lady Michelle Obama and to appeal for her intercession as a mother like Euna to ask North Korean government to cause their release.

These letters can be sent thru postcards and letters to the White House or by posting them in websites, notably the website.

He clarified that his wife and Laura Ling are not staying in a “luxury hotel. They are confined in a medical detention center and are treated fairly.

“I appeal to the North Korean government to show mercy and pardon my wife, Euna Lee, and Laura Ling.”
He said he and his daughter, Hana, sorely miss Euna Lee, who has since missed Easter, Mother’s Day, the pre-school graduation of Hana, which is very important for both parents and children, Father’s day which is more of  my day, and the fireworks of the Fourth of July to celebrate our freedom.”

Last March 17, 2009, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, American journalists employed by cable television network Current TV, were detained at the North Korean border. They were arrested, indicted, tried and sentenced to 12 years of “Hard Labor.”

Their amnesty is “our sole request of their families and friends and their safe return to their homes and families is our singular desire.”

For his part, Rev. Jesse Jackson who led the opening and closing prayers during the vigil, said “[We will get on a plane and help with their release] if it will be a reasonable chance to be successful. We have great sympathy to the family in this situation so we support the amnesty.”

Others, who spoke at the vigil organized by former Filipino American broadcast journalist Rose Tibayan, were Bob Kolatorowicz, director of Spirituality and Social Justice Ministries of Old St. Patrick’s Church; Rummana Hussain, co-president, Chicago chapter, Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) and reporter of Chicago Sun Times; Anthony Shute, board member, Chicago chapter, National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and executive producer of ABC7 News; Allen Rafalson, president, Chicago Journalists Association (CJA); Lourdes M. Ceballos, president, National Press Club of the Philippines in the United States of America; Ronnie Kroell, Diversity and Human Rights Activist; Huiri Kim, Esquire, board member, Chicago Chapter, Korean American Bar Association (KABA) and Nicole Culverson, spokesperson, Traffic Free.

In brief remarks, Ceballos likened the detention of Laura Ling and Euna Lee to the appeal of the NPC Phil-USA last year to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to expedite the release of broadcast journalist Ces Orena Drilon of ABS-CBN, cameraman Jimmy Encarnacion and Prof. Octavio Dinampo of the Mindanao State University, who were held hostage by Abu Sayyaf militants, but were released after paying ransom demand.

She adopted the suggestion of Manila Bulletin Provincial Editor Tony Antonio, former president of the National Press Club of the Philippines, to obtain universal hazard insurance coverage for journalists, working in danger zones.

Last March 17, 2009, Laura and Euna were shooting video along the China/North Korea border for a story they were working on about the trafficking of women in the region. They were stopped by North Korean border guards and arrested immediately thereafter.  Both women were transported to Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, where they remained under arrest until their trial.

A verdict in their closed trial was reached on June 8, and both Laura and Euna were sentenced to 12 years of reform through labor for illegal entry and grave crimes against the North Korean state.

Since the sentencing, the families have been able to receive calls on a few occasions.  During the second call received on the evening of July 7, Laura and Euna reported that they are being treated fairly and are being seen by physicians. In their most recent call, they asked for “continued support from our country and its citizens for their amnesty.”

Both Laura and Euna communicated to their families that they did violate North Korean law and confessed to all of the charges levied against them. They, along with their families, have expressed deep regret for their actions.

Laura, Euna and their families desperately hope that the U.S. Government and the Government of North Korea can work together to secure their amnesty.

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