The Central Court of North Korea is set to try US journalists Laura Ling and Seung-eun Lee, detained at the Chinese border in March, on charges of "hostile acts" and illegally entering the country. They face up to 10 years of forced labour.
AFP - Two US women journalists will go on trial in North Korea at 3 pm (0600 GMT) Thursday, state media reported, on charges that could send them to a labour camp.
TV reporters Laura Ling and Euna Lee were detained by North Korean border guards on March 17 while researching a story about refugees fleeing the hardline communist state.
Pyongyang previously said they would face trial for "hostile acts" and illegally entering the country.
The Korean Central News Agency said Thursday that the two would be tried at the North's Central Court "on the basis of the indictment already brought against them."
The agency -- which referred to Lee, a Korean-American, by her Korean name -- gave no further details.
South Korean analysts say "hostile acts" are punishable by a minimum five years' detention and hard labour.
The hearing comes amid growing international tensions sparked by the communist state's nuclear test and its apparent plans to launch another long-range missile.
Supporters of the pair and a media freedom group have called for leniency.
"We appeal to the North Korean judicial authorities to show the utmost clemency and we hope the trial will result in the acquittal and release of the two American journalists," Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.
"We urge the judges trying the case to follow the example set by their Iranian counterparts, who released US journalist Roxana Saberi last month."
The group said that even if the reporters made a mistake by getting too close to the North Korean border, "they did so solely for journalistic purposes and not for political reasons or for the purposes of espionage."
Friends, family and colleagues of Lee and Ling held candlelight vigils in Washington and seven other US cities Wednesday evening.
"I wish this were all a bad dream," Ling's sister Lisa Ling said in a letter read out at the rally in Washington's Freedom Plaza.
"We have a golden opportunity for a fresh start between our two countries," she said. "Instead of trying to get reacquainted with one another through missile launches, nuclear tests and terse rhetoric, why not get to know each other over these two amazing girls who just wanted to tell a story?"
The rally also received a letter of support from Saberi, the US journalist of partly Iranian origin who was freed by Iran after being convicted of spying for the United States.
Saberi said she understood what Ling and Lee were going through.
"I would like to thank everyone who supported me while I was in Tehran's Evin prison. I was freed in large part by support from people like you," she wrote.
Analysts have said Pyongyang may be using the pair as a bargaining chip to open direct talks with Washington.
But relations have worsened in recent weeks, with the North firing a long-range rocket on April 5 despite international appeals to refrain.
After the United Nations Security Council punished the launch by tightening sanctions, the North responded on May 25 with its second nuclear test.
It has also renounced the armistice on the Korean peninsula and is said to be preparing to test medium-range missiles and a long-range Taepodong-2.
The families of the pair Monday broke their long silence to appeal for clemency and to urge the two governments not to link the case to the nuclear standoff.
The reporters, who work for California-based Current TV co-founded by former vice president Al Gore, were allowed to phone their families in the US a week ago.
"We had not heard their voices in over two and a half months," said Lisa Ling. "They are very scared -- they're very, very scared.
"Now is the time to try and urge both governments to communicate," she told NBC's "The Today Show."
Both detainees are married and Lee has a four-year-old daughter.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the charges against them are "baseless."
Date created : 2009-06-04