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US journalist says she capitulated in N. Korea prison

Falsely agreed she was enemy of Pyongyang

‘I knew that that was the confession they wanted to hear,’ said Laura Ling , taken captive with fellow journalist Euna Lee. ‘I knew that that was the confession they wanted to hear,’ said Laura Ling , taken captive with fellow journalist Euna Lee.
Associated Press / May 19, 2010

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CHICAGO — An American journalist who was imprisoned in North Korea for months after briefly crossing into the reclusive country while reporting about the sex trade said yesterday that she told interrogators in a ploy for mercy that she was trying to overthrow the government.

In her first televised interview since her August release, Laura Ling said on “The Oprah Winfrey Show’’ that she was told the worst could happen if she did not confess.

Ling said she drew suspicion because she worked for Current TV, a media venture founded by former Vice President Al Gore based in San Francisco.

“I knew that that was the confession they wanted to hear, and I was told if you confess there may be forgiveness and if you’re not frank, if you don’t confess then the worst could happen,’’ Ling said.

“It was the most difficult decision to have to do that. I didn’t know if I was sealing my fate. But I just had to trust that this was the right thing to do.’’

Ling and journalist Euna Lee were captured at the North Korea-China border in March 2009 while reporting about North Korean women who were forced into the sex trade or arranged marriages when they defected to China.

They spent the first few days of their captivity in a 5-by-6-foot jail cell.

“There were no bars so you couldn’t see out. And if they closed those slats, it just went completely dark,’’ Ling said.

The women were moved to a Pyongyang guesthouse soon after, where Ling said conditions improved, but there were no showers, and the power and water went out several times a day.

“I developed a system to wash where they would allow me to heat a kettle of water,’’ she said. “I would mix it with some cold water and then I would scrub down and just splash it on me.’’

The women were convicted of illegal entry and hostile acts and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor. Ling said she was petrified and tried to prepare herself for a long sentence, “but once I heard those words ‘12 years’ come from the judge I could barely stand up right.’’

She said she spiraled into a deep depression, refused her meals, and huddled in a dark corner of her room. She said she sought strength by thinking about other innocent people imprisoned.

“If these people are undergoing this then I can try to muster up the strength to get through it,’’ she said.

Ling also said she was angry with herself and would slap and hit herself as punishment for putting her family through the ordeal. She thought she might be pregnant when she was captured, then was crushed to learn she wasn’t.

“I thought, I will never be able to have a family with my husband again,’’ said Ling, who is now pregnant and due in June.

The women were pardoned in early August after a landmark trip to Pyongyang by former President Bill Clinton.

They were among four Americans detained by North Korea in less than a year for illegal entry.

Activist Robert Park of Arizona was expelled some 40 days after crossing into North Korea last Christmas. Aijalon Mahli Gomes of Boston remains imprisoned after being arrested Jan. 25 in North Korea.

It is unclear why Gomes, who had been teaching in South Korea, crossed into the North.

Tensions between North and South are running high amid a dispute over joint economic projects and the mysterious March sinking of a South Korean warship and death of 46 sailors near the nation’s western sea border.

Meanwhile, international negotiations aimed at getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons remain stalled. The United States is a participant in those talks.

Ling appeared on Winfrey’s show with her sister, journalist Lisa Ling, who is a correspondent for the program. The women promoted their new book, “Somewhere Inside: One Sister’s Captivity in North Korea and the Other’s Fight to Bring Her Home.’’

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