Friday, July 10, 2009

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The sister of an American journalist sentenced with a co-worker to 12 years in a North Korean labor camp said Thursday that they’re seeking a pardon as their only hope for freedom.

Lisa Ling told The Associated Press that her sister, Laura, made the plea during a 20-minute telephone call Tuesday.

Lisa Ling said her sister called to say that she and fellow journalist Euna Lee had broken the law in North Korea when they were captured in March on the China-North Korean border.

“She was very deliberate in saying they broke the law,” Lisa Ling said in a phone interview before an evening vigil planned at the state Capitol. “Their only hope right now is to be pardoned.”

Vigils also were planned Thursday in Phoenix, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Paris, France.

Last month, the journalists for San Francisco-based Current TV were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for entering the country illegally and “hostile acts.”

Lisa Ling said they have not yet been sent to the labor camp because of medical concerns. Laura Ling suffers from an ulcer, while Lee has lost 15 pounds since being detained. Her sister added she had been seen regularly by a doctor.

It was the third time Laura Ling has been permitted to call her sister, husband and parents. In the latest call, she asked for socks, dental floss, hair ties, dark-colored T-shirts, razors, toothpaste and an English Dictionary.

“I think the thing that made me most sad is she said ‘I need sunscreen for my face and body in case I go to a labor camp,” said Lisa, who would speak to her younger sister at least three times a day before she was captured.

Lisa Ling said her mother sent the items the following morning to a relative who lives in the United Kingdom, which has diplomatic relations with North Korea.

The families also have sent letters pleading for the women’s release to the North Korean government through the Swedish ambassador. They have created a website to gather signatures for an online petition.

The journalists’ detention comes at time of heightened tension between the U.S. and North Korea over that country’s nuclear program. The U.N. Security Council also has imposed sanctions against North Korea for a May nuclear test.

Washington and Pyongyang do not have diplomatic relations, but the Department of State has called on the North Korea to release the journalists.

“We urge North Korea to grant amnesty to the two journalists and to permit their immediate release,” State Department spokeswoman Laura Tischler said Thursday.

The United States also is pushing for regular consular visits between the two journalists and the Swedish Ambassador, who serves as the U.S. protecting power in Pyongyang, Tischler said. The Swedish Ambassador has visited the pair four times, most recently on June 23.

U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer have called on the White House to consider sending “high-level envoys” to North Korea to try to free two American journalists.

Lisa Ling said her sister and family have drawn strength from the vigils and support shown in the United States.

“She feels very apologetic. She feels terrible this has happened, period,” Lisa Ling said. “It just kills us. Laura’s a journalist. She’s not a criminal. She and Euna made a mistake.”

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