NPR logo N. Korean Leader Pardons, Releases U.S. Journalists


N. Korean Leader Pardons, Releases U.S. Journalists

Former President Bill Clinton has achieved his goal. North Korean strongman Kim Jong-Il has pardoned and ordered the release of two U.S. journalists who were sentenced to 12 years hard labor after being convicted for illegally entering the totalitarian state in March.

The report of Kim's actions is being reported by North Korea's news service. Clinton was in the North Korean capital Pyongyang on a supposedly private humanitarian mission to seek the release of Euna Lee and Laura Ling. He met with Kim and then the journalists, after which came the announcement the women were being released.

Lee and Ling worked for former Vice President Al Gore's Current TV when they were captured by North Korean security forces on that nation's border with China and accused of entering the country.

North Korea's official KCNA news agency said in a statement carried in a Reuters report:

"Kim Jong-il issued an order of the chairman of the DPRK National Defence Commission on granting a special pardon to the two American journalists who had been sentenced to hard labour in accordance with Article 103 of the Socialist Constitution and releasing them."

There's been no statement from the White House or State Department yet, standard procedure in situations like this. U.S. officials will usually wait until they can confirm that such a mission has cleared an adversarial nation's airspace before making an announcement.

Clinton is the highest-profile American to visit North Korea since 1994. The Yonhap News Agency has a useful chronology of such visits since 1994.

The Ling and Lee families issued a statement:

Statement from the families of Laura Ling and Euna Lee:

The families of Laura Ling and Euna Lee are overjoyed by the news of their pardon. We are so grateful to our government: President Obama, Secretary Clinton and the U.S. State Department for their dedication to and hard work on behalf of American citizens. We especially want to thank President Bill Clinton for taking on such an arduous mission and Vice President Al Gore for his tireless efforts to bring Laura and Euna home. We must also thank all the people who have supported our families through this ordeal, it has meant the world to us. We are counting the seconds to hold Laura and Euna in our arms.