Former journalist and tv host discusses captivity in North Korea to a packed session at NMU forum

Noah Hausmann

Award-winning journalist and author Laura Ling spoke at NMU Thursday evening in the Jamrich Hall Auditorium to discuss her humanitarian coverage and the 140 days that she was held in North Korean captivity. She delivered to a packed auditorium with close to 200 students and community members in attendance.

On March 17, 2009, American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee were captured by North Korean soldiers while filming a documentary along the China-North Korea border. The two women were charged with illegal entry for crossing into North Korea. After several months of interrogation, they were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor in a North Korean prison camp. Ling’s sister, Lisa Ling, campaigned to bring them home.

Former President Bill Clinton met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in August 2009 and helped secure their release. Laura and Lisa Ling collaboratively wrote a book about the ordeal called “Somewhere Inside: One Sister’s Captivity in North Korea and the Other Sister’s Fight to Bring Her Home.”

“I never truly understood what a luxury our freedom is until I went out into the world and met people who had risked their lives for greater freedom—and until I lost my own,” Ling said.

Her presentation, entitled “A Journey of Hope,” discussed her coverage of North Korean defectors, many of whom were women being trafficked into forced marriages or prostitution. Ling and her team were crossing the border at the frozen Tumen River when she was apprehended by North Korean guards.

Despite the hardship of her prison cell, she said some of her guards were sympathetic to her.

“I was huddled up in a ball in the corner crying uncontrollably. A guard came up to me, and she said something that I’ll never forget. ‘Laura,’ she said, ‘always have hope.’ They’re a testament to what can happen when people from ‘enemy nations’ get to interact and communicate. Right now we live in divisive times, but if we only take the chance to engage with those we consider different, we might find out how much we have in common.”

Ling ended her speech by saying “I urge you all here to cherish your freedom and be a strong and powerful voice for those who need one.”

Ling was brought to campus by the student activity fee and the student group Platform Personalities. The journalist enjoyed dinner with members of the student organization.

“I think there’s such a dynamic student body here,” she said. “I’ve met students from almost every major, and they’re all so committed to making the world a better place—it’s amazing. This is the generation. If change is going to happen, it has to happen with this generation. Students should be galvanized and get active because this is your time.”