Journalist imprisoned in North Korea says she confessed to government plot in ploy for mercyBy AP
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Journalist says she confessed in N. Korean prison
SAN JOSE, Calif. — An American journalist who was imprisoned in North Korea for months after briefly crossing into the reclusive country while reporting on the sex trade said she told interrogators in a ploy for mercy that she was trying to overthrow the government.
In her first televised interview since her August release, Laura Ling said on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” that aired Tuesday that she was told the worst could happen if she didn’t confess.
Ling said she drew suspicion because she worked for San Francisco-based Current TV, a media venture founded by former Vice President Al Gore.
“I knew that that was the confession they wanted to hear and I was told if you confess there may be forgiveness and if you’re not frank, if you don’t confess, then the worst could happen,” Ling said.
“It was the most difficult decision to have to do that. I didn’t know if I was sealing my fate,” she said. “But I just had to trust that this was the right thing to do.”
Ling and journalist Euna Lee, both of Los Angeles, were captured in March 2009. They acknowledge they briefly crossed into North Korea from China while reporting about North Korean women who were forced into the sex trade or arranged marriages when they defected to China.
They said they were seized by North Korean soldiers after they had already returned to Chinese soil.
After being left alone for a few minutes following their arrest, they managed to delete digital photos from their camera, damage video and eat their notes to protect sources. They then underwent separate interrogations aimed at learning why they were in the country.
They initially told the guards they were students but later confessed to being journalists for fear that lying would get them in more trouble. They were told North Korean leader Kim Jong Il would forgive them, as he was a compassionate man.
They spent the first few days of their captivity in a five-by-six foot jail cell. Ling was visited by a doctor to inspect wounds she received while trying to evade capture.
“There were no bars so you couldn’t see out. And if they closed those slats, it just went completely dark,” Ling said.
The women were moved to a Pyongyang guesthouse soon after, where Ling said conditions improved, but there were no showers and the power and water went out several times a day.
“I developed a system to wash where they would allow me to heat a kettle of water,” she said. “I would mix it with some cold water and then I would scrub down and just splash it on me.”
A couple months into their detainment, the women were convicted of illegal entry and “hostile acts” and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor. Ling said she was petrified and tried to prepare herself for a long sentence, “but once I heard those words ‘12 years’ come from the judge I could barely stand up right.”
She said she spiraled into a deep depression, refused her meals and huddled in a dark corner of her room. She said she sought strength by thinking about other innocent people imprisoned.
“If these people are undergoing this then I can try to muster up the strength to get through it,” she said.
Ling also said she was angry with herself and would slap and hit herself as punishment for putting her family through the ordeal. She thought she might be pregnant when she was captured then was crushed to learn she wasn’t.
“I thought, I will never be able to have a family with my husband again,” said Ling, who is now pregnant and due in June.
While detained, Ling was interrogated daily about her work, travels and family. She could occasionally watch television in the guards’ quarters and received letters from her family. She was separated from Lee for all but six days of their five months of captivity.
The women were pardoned in early August after a landmark trip to Pyongyang by former President Bill Clinton.
They are among four Americans detained by North Korea in less than a year for illegal entry.
Activist Robert Park of Arizona was expelled some 40 days after crossing into North Korea last Christmas. Aijalon Mahli Gomes of Boston remains imprisoned after being arrested Jan. 25 in North Korea. It’s unclear why Gomes, who had been teaching in South Korea, crossed into the North.
Tensions between North and South are running high amid a dispute over joint economic projects and the mysterious March sinking of a South Korean warship and death of 46 sailors near the nation’s western sea border.
Meanwhile, international negotiations aimed at getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons remain stalled. The United States is a participant in those talks.
Ling appeared on Winfrey’s show with her sister, journalist Lisa Ling, who is a correspondent for program. The women promoted their new book, “Somewhere Inside: One Sister’s Captivity in North Korea and the Other’s Fight to Bring Her Home.”
In the book, Lisa Ling describes a phone conversation she had with Gore the day she learned her sister had been captured. He warned her not to do or say anything that might inflame the North Koreans.
“The next forty-eight hours are crucial,” he urged. “We’re not dealing with a normal government, we have to be very, very careful.”
Associated Press Writer Caryn Rousseau in Chicago contributed to this report.
Tags: Asia, California, Chicago, China, East Asia, Greater China, Journalists, Laura ling, Lisa ling, North America, North Korea, San Jose, United States