Public outcry continues over journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee (both from California) who spent nearly six months confined in North Korea, resulting in the American government sending Bill Clinton to a country with which the U.S. has no formal relations to negotiate their release.
But the video footage that was confiscated during their arrest put the journalists’ subjects in danger far worse than their own.
Ling and Lee were reporting for the American cable news network Current TV on the human trafficking of North Korean women into China, where they serve as sex workers and are purchased as wives. As part of the story the journalists videotaped and interviewed pastors, volunteers, and residents of five secret shelters for the children of North Korean women trafficked into China.
When Ling and Lee’s footage was confiscated by the North Korean government, the women ended up exposing the identities of the children and pastors living at the Durihana Mission, as well as the people who helped North Korean refugees cross into China and brought them to the Mission.
The Chinese government shut down all of Durihana Mission’s shelters and deported some of the pastors, many of whom were South Korean or North Korean defectors. The pastors are saying Ling and Lee reported recklessly and weren’t careful enough with the sensitive information and footage they gathered.
News outlets and blogs say they have found evidence that the women intentionally crossed the border (after they were continually warned not to go near it), violating international law and putting the subjects of their footage in danger. Other people are upset because they say the women need to use their public statements as a way to bring more attention to the North Korean refugees. Thus far the women have only spoken out about journalists held captive in other parts of the world.
The Women’s Media Center reports that 80 to 90 percent of female North Korean refugees living in China are trafficking victims. North Korea treats refugees— whether they emigrated voluntarily or were trafficked—as criminal defectors. China treats them as illegal immigrants, and deports thousands per year. While a refugee is an emigrant who has fled their country for safety reasons, a trafficked person has been sold and forced to work for others in a new country. These people are vulnerable, and often refugees or immigrants pursuing what seem like work opportunities only to have their identification and rights taken away.