The Dear Reader: DPRK Observations & Musings


Empathizing with the Hiker Families

During Laura Ling and Euna Lee‘s detainment last year in North Korea, Laura‘s mother Mary kept a constant vigil at the computer, tormented – as any mother would be – by the diabolical circumstances constraining her child. Now, unfortunately, that situation is repeating itself with the case of American hikers Joshua Fattal, Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd, who’ve been in Iranian captivity since July 31st, 2009.

Per a recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Joshua‘s mother Laura mentions the word “powerlessness,” a term that came up many times during the LingLee saga for mom Mary, sister Lisa, husbands Michael Saldate and Iain Clayton, and so on.

What’s striking about the case of @freethehikers is how much more of a void these parents are dealing with: no intermediary diplomatic access; no phone calls (Laura and Euna were allowed several); no formal charges (Laura and Euna were “investigated” and booked for trial within five weeks of their March 17th arrest); and, so far, no trial (the @current pair received a sentence of 12 years of hard labor after an early June trial in Pyongyang).

If this LingLee chronology were transposed to FattalBauerShourd, the families would long ago have received word about the state of their children, heard the formal charges (early September) and monitored Iranian justice from afar (October). Though the last two items may not seem like much of a consolation, at both points when this happened with Ling and Lee, the families were strangely thankful to at least be dealing with cold, hard, timelined facts.

The story of the American hikers has been less visible in the mainstream media than was the case with LingLee, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that they were neither working for @AlGore nor the beneficiaries of a belated media blitz orchestrated by a veteran TV journalist and personality (@lisaling). Lisa has lent her support to the hikers’ cause already on several occasions, and the impact of her ability to get in front of the camera during her sister’s detainment cannot be underestimated.

In the end, the politics of North Korea and the value of a Bill Clinton photo opp converged for an August 4th release of Ling and Lee (for the hikers, that 140th day equivalent would have been December 17th). Unfortunately, the recent February 11th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, a perfect domestic political PR framework for the release of Fattal, Bauer and Shourd, has come and gone. One can only hope that the possibility of a visit by the families hinted at last week by a Human Rights official from Iran comes to pass – soon.

Update03/10/10: The hikers were finally, for the first time, allowed to call their families on Tuesday, March 9th.


Filed under: News

One Response

  1. Laura went ahead and subsequently posted a video of support for the @freethehikers cause. You can view it here:

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