North Korea wants to put two detained US journalists on trial. The two women Euna Lee and Laura Ling were arrested two weeks ago while they were apparently working on a story on refugees for a US news channel. But Pyongyang accuses them of illegal entry and of "hostile activities”.
US journalists Euna Lee (L) and Laura Ling (R) were detained near North Korea’s border with China
The Korean-American Euna Lee and Chinese-American Laura Ling work for the San Franciso-based news channel Current TV. They were arrested on March 17 by North Korean soldiers by the Tumen River, along the border between North Korea and China.
The two journalists were apparently working on a story on the fate of North Korean refugees, who often take the route along Tumen to flee to China.
Curbing press freedom
Media activists have expressed concerns about Lee and Ling and called on the North Korean government to explain the move.
Vincent Brossel, from the Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders, says Pyongyang has no reason to hold them.
"They are genuine journalists," says Brossel. "We don’t see a reason for their detention. It is a matter of press freedom."
The North Korean authorities say the two reporters crossed the river and entered North Korea illegally. They also accuse them of conducting hostile activities against the regime.
The authorities have announced that the duo will be indicted. The official Central News Agency says they will be granted access to consular services and that they will be tried under international law.
The United States and North Korea do not share formal diplomatic relations. The US State Department said earlier on Monday that a Swedish diplomat was acting on its behalf to seek the release of the two journalists.
"Laws really have no meaning in North Korea and the idea that they put them on trial is a farce," says Peter Beck, a Korean affairs specialist in Washington.
Chance to negotiate
Some analysts see these arrests as a move by the communist regime to grab the attention of the Obama administration. Some see it as an attempt to raise the stakes before its planned rocket launch. But Peter Beck believes the arrests could provide a chance for Pyongyang and Washington to negotiate.
"This does create an opportunity for Pyongyang and Washington to talk to each other, because once the North Koreans launch their ‘missile’ next week, tensions will be rising and freeing these two women will give the government something constructive to focus on."
Tensions have already been escalating in the region as the date for the planned North Korean rocket launch nears. The US, South Korea and Japan believe Pyongyang plans to test fire a long-range, ballistic missile between April 4-8 and to disguise it as the launch of a communications satellite.
The communist state insists its intentions are peaceful and warns of repercussions if any country tries to shoot it down.