North Korea using captured journalists as pawns in policy disputes with US

Timothy Spence [Press and Communications Manager, International Press Institute]: "North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il is no stranger to ruthlessly muzzling press freedom at home to bury the truth about natural disasters, famine, economic despair and his regime's diplomatic tussles.

But the apparent capture of two American journalists on March 17 by North Korean border guards may be more than just a routine assault on press freedom. As in Iran, which recently arrested an American reporter on charges of trying to buy a bottle of wine, the leaders of these countries seem to be using US journalists as pawns in their own power games with Washington.

The two journalists detained for "illegally intruding" into North Korea across the Chinese border have been identified as Euna Lee and Laura Ling. They were apparently preparing a report for US-based Current TV on North Koreans who are seeking refuge in China in increasing numbers. Iranian authorities arrested Roxana Saberi, a free-lancer who has worked for NPR and Britain's BBC, in February.

Journalists are neutral observers. They know no borders when it comes to gathering information and hunting down the truth. They should not be held as hostages in larger policy disputes — in these cases, perhaps to test the new US administration's stated willingness to use diplomatic means to end North Korean and Iranian atomic ambitions."

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