Just another copycat?

June 11, 2009

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Even by the standards established by the world"s strictest, harshest government and its unpredictable dictator, the sentence seemed harsh: 12 years at hard labor. Certainly the punishment doesn"t fit the crime (reporting a news story). I understand that the regime in North Korea doesn"t mess around with anything untidy such as a Bill of Rights, or any other rights for its citizens, for that matter, but this is extraordinary. Twelve years!

It"s not just hard labor, by the way. It could very well turn into a death sentence.
Didn"t we hear about a similar case recently in the Middle East?

Yes, we did. In January U.S.-born journalist Roxana Saberi was arrested in Iran for spying. In April she was sentenced to an 8-year jail term. Diplomatic efforts later reduced her punishment to a 2-year suspended sentence. She returned to the U.S. on May 22.

Comparing a Middle Eastern democracyyes, technically Iran is a democracyto North Korea"s government might border on a complete waste of time, so I"ll keep it short:

  • The top dog in Iran"s government is the supreme leader of Iran; the president is the No. 2 person. They are aided and abetted by various councils and a legislature. The various governmental bodies conspire to trample on human rights relentlessly and generally run the show with such stunning incompetence that, despite its oil reserves, the country has to import gasoline.


  • North Korea"s head of state is Kim Jong-il, son of the country"s founder, Kim Il-sung. The son wasn"t elected. The country is run like a kingdom; power passes from father to son. The government is so weirdly secretive that it is impossible to know much about it. It"s safe to say that the various governmental bodies conspire to trample on human rights relentlessly and generally run the show with such stunning incompetence that famines are as common as electric service is sporadic.


I don"t want to imply that Iran is somehow good, but at least its positions are clear and unchanging: Its government hates the U.S. and it is actively pursuing a nuclear program. The leader of North Korea seems to be fairly unhinged, reversing positions at whim regarding diplomacy, nuclear progress, and regional belligerence. Its rogue actions aren"t anything new, by the way. For decades it has exhibited shockingly reprehensible behavior:


  • 1968: North Korea captured the USS Pueblo. The tortured, beaten crew was returned later that year, but the ship remains in North Korea.

  • 1974: A South Korean army patrol discovered the first of four tunnels under the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates South Korea from North Korea. These were full-blown engineering projects, reinforced with concrete, equipped with electric power, and fitted out with railway tracks designed for moving personnel and gear for a hasty and concealed invasion.

  • 1976: Six members of a U.N. joint military excursion, sent to trim a tree in the DMZ, were killed by North Korean army personnel in the so-called Ax Murder Incident.

  • 2002: Kim Jong-il, in talks with Japan"s prime minister, admitted that his regime kidnapped several Japanese citizens during the late 1970s and early 1980s, ostensibly to teach Japanese language and culture to North Korean agents.


Back to the arrest of the two journalists. I wouldn"t say that North Korea merely copied Iran in detaining, charging, and convicting Laura Ling and Euna Lee, but the North Korean regime would do all of usand itselfa big favor if it were to copy Iran in suspending the sentence and setting them free.


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Eric Lundin

Editor
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