I've been following the Laura Ling and Euna Lee story for a few weeks now and find it so upsetting. I adore Lisa Ling and my heart breaks for her and her family. Ditto for Euna Lee's famil—especially her four-year-old daughter.
In case you haven't been following the story, Ling and Lee were detained by North Korea for illegally entering the country and "hostile acts" while working on a story near the North Korea/China border for Al Gore's citizen-powered media outlet, Current TV. They were found guilty and sentenced to 12 years in a North Korean labor camp.
Conditions at these labor camps are supposedly horrid. According to a recent story from Al Jazeera...
Deeply secretive North Korea does not publish any details of the camps or the detainees held in them, but accounts from former inmates and guards who have defected paint a bleak picture.
The US state department estimates that 150,000-200,000 prisoners are detained in the camps...
Conditions in the network of labor camps are reported to be extremely harsh, with rights groups saying that torture and ill-treatment are widespread and thousands of children held and forced to work as slave laborers alongside their parents.
Based on accounts from former detainees, human-rights groups believe the conditions are so harsh that at some camps 20-25% of prisoners die every year.
According to a recently published report by the nongovernmental US Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, thousands of prisoners are forced to work - many to their deaths - in mining, logging, farming and industrial enterprises.
The camps give out such meager food rations that prisoners are kept in a condition of "deliberately contrived semi-starvation."
"Inmates are made to work from early morning till late at night in farms or factories, and minor infractions of rules can be met with severe beatings," Amnesty International's latest report on North Korea said.
Former inmates who have escaped North Korea have given accounts of brutal treatment inside the camps, including regular beatings, forced abortions, and rape.
Others have told of Nazi-style experiments involving chemical and biological weapons resulting in the painful deaths of dozens of prisoners at a time.
I don't know what I'd do if my sister were there.
People are saying that North Korea is going to use Laura and Euna as bargaining chips as the UN prepares its response to their atomic bomb tests, but, my God, even few months at a place like that sounds like hell.