On Thursday, June 4th – a date that carries much significance for North Korea, as it marks an historic 1937 battle event with Japan – the country will for the first time ever put American citizens on trial.* By that time, thanks to a coordinated media blitz by the families of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, as well as nationwide candlelight vigils coinciding with the beginning of the Pyongyang trial, Americans will be waiting with baited breath for a verdict.
But no fellow reporters will be on the courtroom steps to capture the post-trial remarks of plaintiffs, defendants and attorneys; no U.S., European TV network or cable news outlet will be sharing sketches of the Pyongyang Central Court proceedings. All that we will have to initially look forward to is the release of a strangely worded sentence or two from the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
Think about that for a second; the trial of this young journalistic century will be conducted without a single western media lens or wire service chronicling the particulars. It’s a remarkably bizarre and gut-wrenching climax that sounds like something from a John Grisham novel, not a real-life event piercing the hearts of two American families.
The families have been told that a lawyer will be appointed to defend Laura Ling and Euna Lee. Who is he-she? Is their background military or civilian? What are their credentials and previous conviction record? We will likely have to wait a long time to perhaps find out the answers to those questions.
And since there are no appeals given in Pyongyang‘s Central Court, if some preposterous sentence is handed down the U.S.’ principal non-diplomatic recourse may well be @Current cameraman Mitch Koss, the only freedom-loving American who knows what really happened.
*Correction – 06/02/09: On tonight’s edition of Larry King Live, @GovRichardson claimed that Laura Ling and Euna Lee are actually the second-third Americans to be tried in a North Korean court of law. A hostage he rescued in 1996 was the first.
Update – 06/04/09: State Department spokesman Ian Kelly confirmed that a single attorney was assigned to Ling–Lee for trial, though North Korea did not provide their name. Swedish Ambassador to North Korea Mats Foyer separately reaffirmed that no outside observers were allowed into the courtroom.