Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Oppression of the Press: Ling Sisters' Account of 140-Day Detention in North Korea Calls Attention to the Growing Number of Journalists Being Held Captive

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Oppression of the Press: Ling Sisters' Account of 140-Day Detention in North Korea Calls Attention to the Growing Number of Journalists Being Held Captive

Article excerpt

Just as it began to sink in that we were actually in North Korean territory, we knew we needed to leave. We turned around and headed back across the ice to China. I heard yelling coming from downstream. I saw two North Korean soldiers sprinting toward us with rifles ...

That is how U.S. journalist Laura Ling and her colleague Euna Lee were seized in March 2009 while on assignment. The women were imprisoned until former President Bill Clinton secured their release. Ling recounts the harrowing ordeal in the recently published Somewhere Inside, which she co-authored with her journalist sister, Lisa, who used her contacts among the media and the highest levels of U.S. government to help win freedom for the women.

"For 140 days, I lived in utter terror, not knowing if I would ever see my family again," Laura Ling writes.

Her story has a happy ending. However, growing numbers of journalists worldwide are being held captive by repressive governments, according to press freedom groups. The overwhelming majority lack the Lings' household name recognition. International reporting has grown increasingly dangerous, experts say, and they don't expect trends to change soon.

"There's a disturbing trend in which journalists are being targeted because of their work in exposing corruption and other things that result in bad press," says Robert Mahoney, deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). By contrast, far fewer journalists were jailed or intentionally harmed a generation ago even in war zones of Southeast Asia and postcolonial Africa.

"This impunity sends a terrible message to other journalists," Mahoney adds.

Last December, a total of 136 reporters, editors and photojournalists were behind bars in various countries, an increase of 9 percent from 2008, according to CPJ.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

It was the third-highest tally in the past decade. Charges against journalists varied from sedition and divulging state secrets to violation of censorship rules. Among the aggressors in recent years are U.S. military authorities who have jailed journalists in Iraq without charge or due process.

Despite common public perceptions that journalists are merely muckrakers seeking overnight fame and fortune, few human rights exist in countries lacking a free press. A vibrant press environment breeds the growth of free-thinking communities, which leads to stable democracies and healthy social, political and economic development.

Last year, Laura Ling and her colleague were working on a documentary for cable network Current TV about North Korean defectors, mostly women, who fled poverty by crossing the border into China, only to fall prey to traffickers and pimps who either sell them into marriage or force them into prostitution. …

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