Save the date: Laura Ling will be in Calgary on Wednesday May 7th as part of the Unique Lives Speaker Series that’s taking place at the Jack Singer Concert Hall, an event not to be missed if you’ve ever wondered about the dangerous and adverse situations that reporters face to get the groundbreaking stories that we see on the evening news.
Ling, a US-based reporter, is no stranger to the front lines of her chosen profession and the risk that comes with the job description. She has covered stories on everything from the Mexican Drug War to the slums of Sao Paulo, Brazil and slave labour that still occurs in the Amazon today. While her job certainly contains elements of excitement and intrigue, this steely journalist has experienced the absolute worst-case scenario that comes with reporting.
Covering A Terrible Reality
It was spring of 2009 when Ling and another reporter, Euna Lee, made the trip to Northern China with the intention of documenting the very sad story about women getting trafficked over the border from North Korea.
While many things about this country remain a mystery to the outside world, what we have learned through snippets of media and defectors is that North Korea operates as a brutal dictatorship that governs its people with extreme censorship and total inefficiency where dire poverty and basic comforts like heat, clothing and food are hard to come by. For all of these reasons, many residents in North Korea search for better lives by escaping by whatever means necessary. Many of the people who do flee are women, and this often means entering China as mail order brides, which can in many cases dissolve into forcible prostitution once across the border. To make the situation even more grim, anyone who is caught in China, working or otherwise, faces being deported back to North Korea where their fates are sealed with tough sentences and hard labour in work camps.
Caught at the Border
During their assignment, Ling and Lee made the regrettable decision to follow their guide over the river into North Korea where they had planned to capture footage of the crossing that many people use to walk into China. Unfortunately, the women and guide were spotted and, despite making it back to Chinese soil, the pair was seized, beaten and dragged back into North Korea.
Once taken into custody, officials aggressively interrogated Ling and Lee in an effort to confirm the real intention of them crossing over. After months of intense questioning and little leniency, both Ling and Lee soon realized that pleading guilty to the charges brought against them was their only hope for mercy. However, in what was described as a ‘show trial’, both journalists were quickly found guilty of illegal entry and hostile acts that landed them 12-year sentences in a Korean labour camp, a horrific sentence that would surely involve torture, starvation and most likely death.
What Happened Next
With a bombshell like this being dropped, the outlook for Ling and Lee seemed bleak, but what happened next was nothing short of a miracle. When Lisa Ling learned of her sister being taken into custody, she made it her mission to spread the word of her plight. As luck would have it, Lisa worked as a special correspondent for not only CNN but also for the Oprah Winfrey show. With friends in high places, Lisa was able to share the news of her sister’s horrible situation and official talks were underway on how to bring the two women home soon after.
We don’t want to give away too much, but both women were eventually released after an agreement was reached that involved former president Bill Clinton agreeing to make the trip to North Korea to sit down face to face with then leader Kim Jong-il.
On Wednesday night Ling will delve into more details of her harrowing time in North Korea, on the former president coming to her rescue, what might have swayed Jong-il to release them, and her emotional homecoming. This is sure to be a riveting evening with exceptional story telling, so don’t miss your chance to hear this incredible story first hand. You can purchase tickets here.
#LYNL | (Live Your Notable Life)
Cover image from: Womensmediacenter.com