The Dear Reader: DPRK Observations & Musings


Black Friday

On Monday, August 17th, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. departed for China to begin a much anticipated term as U.S. Ambassador to our largest creditor and the world’s newest superpower. Today, the South Korean newspaper @Chosun_Ilbo confirmed for many the worst possible fears in terms of fallout from the March 17th arrest at the Chinese-North Korean border of American journalists Laura Ling, Euna Lee and Mitch Koss: namely, that materials seized from the group led to a crackdown on North Korean refugees and those that help them.

It’s not the first order of business that Huntsman was expecting to have to deal with, but since the Chinese seized a camera and other belongings from an American citizen (56-year-old Glendale, CA resident Koss) working for an American network (@current) co-founded by a former American Vice President (@AlGore) – and that Koss was legally in the territory of China while doing so – it becomes paramount for Huntsman to do a couple of things:

–  One: he must publically or through back-channel efforts demand an immediate update on the status of all those identified through the materials seized from Koss (25 additional North Korean orphans, female refugees working in the online porn business, activists);

– Two: he must officially request that all materials seized by the Chinese from Koss be returned immediately to the U.S. embassy in Beijing for forwarding to @current.

Huntman is someone who intends to make human rights a cornerstone of his term(s) in China, and although he certainly was not anticipating to have to engage in this area with an urgency that the current situation demands, he has little choice. The safety of dozens (not to mention the legacy of Ling, Lee and Koss‘ actions) hangs in the balance.

It will not be an easy task. A recent tally showed that China has more journalists in its prisons than any other country, while the realm of North Korean refugees is one that the country attacks with little mercy, so as to stem the flow of these individuals into its northeastern regions. But on this date – Friday, August 21st – the story of Ling, Lee and Koss has once again reverted back to those less fortunate people trying to escape the clutches of Kim Jong-il‘s brutal regime.

Update08/21/09: Though @current spokesman Bren Marcus disputes some of the details shared by Pastor Lee @Chosun_Ilbo, the Pastor’s Durihana colleague Reverend Chun tells @NYTimes that two of the women interviewed by LingLee have now fled China in fear of North Korean repatriation, while a third is on the run within the country.


Filed under: Euna Lee, Laura Ling, Mitchell Koss

9 Responses

  1. Spelunker says:

    Welcome Suze Orman to this special segment we like to call “Can America afford it?”

    Orman: Ambasssador Jon Huntsman! Welcome to the Suze Orman Show! Hey boyfriend, what do you wanna buy?

    Huntsman: Uh…I would like to buy a used Sony HVR camera for $5000.

    Orman: Why not get a new model to go with your new job?

    Huntsman: I need the one from Current TV that Mitch Koss left in China back in March.

    Orman: China? ARE YOU KIDDING? You mean the one that was seized by China’s police?

    Huntsman: Yes ma’am, with all due respect…

    Orman: Not much respect for China’s rules regarding journalists; after all the Current TV crew did have fraudulent China visa applications claiming they were just tourists. Are you NUTS? Go ahead anyway, show me the money!

    Huntsman: Well, we have a $103 billion dollar trade deficit with China but we’re considering imposing duties on Chinese tires. Then there’s the North Korean nuclear crisis situation and…

    Orman: DENIED! You are DENIED! You think you can just get off the plane at Beijing airport, pose for pictures, chit chat in Chinese, and then buy back the confiscated camera? You are so DENIED, boyfriend! This matter should not be on the agenda of the US ambassador; are you kidding me? Let Al Gore go to Peking and duck the media while begging officials to return his network’s video camera.
    That’s all for our show today and remember what I always say: “People first, then money, then things.”

    • liberatelaura says:

      Yes, the falsified professional occupation declarations on the Current crew’s Chinese visas complicate things, but Koss still had inalienable U.S. rights.

  2. Bo says:

    Spelunker–I thought you explained, here or somewhere else, that the visa application information isn’t a big deal, as the Chinese treat journalists with great suspicion.

  3. Spelunker says:

    Allow me to clarify the visa situation in China.
    You can see for yourself at the embassy of China’s website that there are two separate visa applications for journalists and tourists.

    Tourists are supposed to apply for the “L” tourist visa while journalists are required to apply for the more complicated “J” journalist visa if doing any news coverage in China. If you look at the “J” visa application then you’ll also notice an “equipment declaration form” for journalists to list their cameras, microphones, and other media gadgets. Here is one of the requirements for the “J” visa:

    1. A letter of application for covering news in China signed by the head of the foreign media organization with detailed programs in China including the name list of the visiting reporter(s), date of arrival and departure, venue(s) and subject of news coverage.

    Current TV’s crew totally bypassed the formal application process for journalists reporting in China, instead opting for the much easier tourist visa and claiming to be on vacation.

    This is why there is no way in hell (or Yanji, for this matter) that Current TV is getting their camera and video back from Chinese police.

    Yet Current TV has done several documentaries in China, so one might ask if they have always bypassed the rules? In fact it’s very easy to deceive visa office clerks, especially for smaller news organizations that employ freelance correspondents. Have Lisa and Mitch used “L” tourist visas all along? I guess there would be a record in China’s passport computer database if they had previous “J” visas.

    Many folks have been asking why Euna Lee was brought along for this assignment, and in fact she may have made it much easier for Laura to get the tourist visa to accompany Euna to Yanji from Seoul. China promotes Yanji as a tourist destination for South Koreans, so they could have applied for their visas at the embassy of China while in Seoul. We’ll see if those minor details are included in Laura and Euna’s forthcoming disclosure statements, but I wouldn’t bet a bowl of teriyaki chicken on it.

  4. Jeremy says:

    Okay, so Koss’s camera and other belongings were seized, I can accept that, but I’m hesitant to take anything the Chinese (or North Korean) authorities say at face value.
    Reverend Lee claims the Chinese cops who raided and arrested him said they used Koss’s video evidence, but it is common procedure for police both in China and around the world to lie to break the will of arrestees/suspects and get them to open up. They certainly could have also found out about the refugees through another means, and if it’s true that Ling and Lee were lured by the guide, then it’s not too much of a stretch that the locations of refugee hideouts were already compromised as well.

    And considering that Rev. Chun has recently been accused of sexual assault, maybe he and other people in Durihana lied about Ling and Lee to take the heat off themselves (anyone who’s enough of a scumbag to prey on desperate women would have enough to motive to do that). Needless to say, it’s no wonder Chun didn’t say anything negative about Ling and Lee when he met with Paul Song in July, but he’s singing a different tune now.

    But let’s see what Laura Ling says in her op-ed.

    • liberatelaura says:

      The Chinese might be claiming it all came from Koss so as to protect/keep covert other sources. And yes, the Reverend does not have the kind of track record that inspires confidence.

      At this point, a lot of the story belongs to the guide, unseen and unheard from, still presumably in Chinese captivity.

      • Jeremy says:

        According to the One Free Korea blog, the guide was recently released from Chinese custody and has seemingly virtually disappeared.

  5. Jeremy says:

    I’m still debating this with a friend who believes the official story, though.

    If the contents of Koss’s camera really were used to go after refugees, why didn’t he take the opportunity to try and destroy the compromising evidence in between the time he ran away from the border and his detainment by the PAP? Perhaps he panicked and forgot (which is understandable), and maybe the PAP were on the scene not long after (which is also understandable), but is that really much of an excuse? He could have at least thrown everything in the Tumen River, or tried to.

    But even if he’s mainly to blame, since Ling is his boss, she also shares responsibility for it regardless now that I think about it.

    • liberatelaura says:

      Who knows? Maybe Koss disagreed with his younger boss and refused to join her and Euna in the border crossing… Perhaps PAP were tipped off (like NK borer guards?) or right there before he had a chance to do anything.

      Remember… at that time of year, the Tumen River is frozen, so throwing contents into river not an option.

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