N.Korea: Journalists planned ‘smear campaign’

SEOUL, South Korea — Two American journalists sentenced by North Korea last week to 12 years of hard labor were caught shooting video for what the North said was a politically motivated “smear campaign,” state-run media said Tuesday.

The reporting team from Current TV crossed the frozen Tumen River dividing North Korea and China three months ago and walked up the river bank — and then recorded their transgression, the official Korean Central News Agency said.

“We’ve just entered a North Korean courtyard without permission,” the Korean translation of their narration on the videotape said, according to KCNA. One of them picked up and pocketed a stone as a memento of the illegal move, the report said.

Two women — reporter Laura Ling and editor Euna Lee — were arrested in Kangan-ri in North Hamgyong Province, the report said. A third person, Current TV executive producer Mitch Koss, and their Korean-Chinese guide managed to flee, KCNA said.

Last Monday, Lee and Ling were sentenced in North Korea’s top court to 12 years of hard labor for what KCNA called politically motivated crimes. They were accused of crossing into North Korea to capture video for a “smear campaign” focused on human rights, the report said.

“The accused admitted that what they did were criminal acts committed, prompted by the political motive to isolate and stifle the socialist system of (North Korea) by faking up moving images aimed at falsifying its human rights performance and hurling slanders and calumnies at it,” it said.

Current TV public relations director Brent Marcus said in an e-mail that the company had no comment, while a spokeswoman for the former vice president said Gore’s office also had no comment.

The women were detained March 17 at a time of rising tensions between North Korea and the United States over the communist nation’s nuclear and missile programs.

Weeks earlier, North Korea had announced its intention to send a satellite into space aboard a long-range rocket — a launch Washington called a cover for a test of a long-range missile designed to strike the U.S.

North Korea went ahead with the rocket launch in early April, and in an increasingly brazen show of defiance, conducted a nuclear test on May 25 and fired off a series of short-range missiles in the days before the journalists’ trial.

The women’s families say Lee, 36, and Ling, 32, were reporting on North Korean refugees in China and had no intention of crossing into North Korea. Many feared they would become political pawns in any negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang. The families have pleaded for leniency and urged their release on humanitarian grounds.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who earlier called the charges against the women “baseless,” said Washington was working every channel to secure their release.