[JURIST] US journalists Laura Ling and Seung-eun Lee [BBC profile] were sentenced on Monday in North Korea's Pyongyang Central Court to 12 years in labor camps [KCNA report, in Korean]. The journalists were arrested [JURIST report] in March for allegedly crossing into North Korea while reporting on North Korean defectors for Current TV [media website] and were subsequently charged with unspecified "hostile acts." The trial, which began Thursday [JURIST report], is final and binding [Korea Herald report] as there is no opportunity to appeal from the Central Court's ruling. The sentence may include [Yonhap News report] forced labor at farms, mines, factories, or construction sites, according to an analyst who defected to South Korea. US President Barack Obama [official profile] expressed concern over the sentence, maintaining that the government would pursue all possible channels [AFP report] to obtain the journalists' freedom. Free press advocacy group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) [official website, in French] said that the women were arrested while conducting "solely journalistic" work, and called on the court to show lenience [press release, in French] by acquitting them on all charges.
The journalists' conviction comes at a sensitive time for US-North Korean relations. Recently, North Korea conducted a second nuclear test [NYT report] in defiance of a 2006 UN Security Council [official website] ban on nuclear or missile tests [Resolution 1718 text; JURIST report]. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile] and other world leaders condemned [statement text] the test. In April, North Korea also violated the resolution when it fired a rocket [NYT report] in an attempt to put a satellite into space and test its missile technology, after ordering UN nuclear inspectors out [press release] of the country. North Korea has been accused of using the captured journalists as pawns [JURIST op-ed] in policy disputes with the US. North Korea has ranked [JURIST report] among the countries with the least protection for press freedoms.