US journalists on trial in North Korea

North Korea will put on trial on Thursday two US journalists it says illegally entered the country with “hostile intent” in a contentious case that comes as Pyongyang faces international anger for last week’s nuclear test.

“The Central Court of the DPRK (North Korea) will start a trial of American journalists Laura Ling and Seung-eun Lee on the basis of the indictment already brought against them,” its KCNA news agency said.

Experts said a guilty verdict is certain and that the two, captured on North Korea’s border with China in March while working on a story, are likely to become bargaining chips in high-stake negotiations with the United States, which has long sought to end the North’s nuclear ambitions.

The journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who was referred to by her Korean name in the KCNA dispatch, are with US media outlet Current TV. Analysts said they believe the two are the first US journalists the North has criminally charged and put on trial for illegally entering the reclusive state.

“North Korean law states that a person convicted of highly hostile acts can be subject to forced labour for a period of 10 years or more,” said Park Jeong-woo, a law professor at the South’s Kookmin University and an expert on the North’s legal system.

Little has been heard of the two since their arrest but they have been seen by Sweden’s ambassador to Pyongyang on behalf of Washington, which has no diplomatic ties with North Korea.

“When I first got here, I cried so much. Now, I cry less,” Ling was quoted as saying in a letter sent to her sister on May 15.

Human rights groups have said jails in impoverished North Korea are brutal, with torture common and prisoners often killed through malnutrition and abuse.

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