Journalist Euna Lee Speaks Out About North Korean Arrest
Euna Lee and Laura Ling recently recieved the McGill Medal for Journalistic Courage from the Grady College at the University of Georgia. It was there that Lee opened up about her arrest after crossing from China into North Korea while trying to learn more about human trafficking.
"We wanted to see the border, how narrow it is. It is a natural place before they flee to China," explained Lee.
They followed the tour guide to a safe house where North Korean benefactors typically stopped before crossing into China. It was then that North Korean soldiers spotted the crew.
They ran as fast as they could back to Chinese soil.
"I saw Laura fell, in front of me. And I asked Laura, "are you okay?", and she said "I can't feel my legs" and I just couldn't move at that moment. I couldn't leave her there."
Lee and Ling immediately knew they were in trouble.
"When I arrived on North Korean soil, it was so cold. I was dragged, and my clothes were wet. I put my hands in my pants pocket, and realized there was a cell phone I had used to call my sources in China, and a small tape, and all I could think was, I've got to get rid of them, and I dropped them one by one towards the river."
Lee and Ling were held captive for 140 days. They were eventually sentenced to 12 years in a hard labor camp. Friends and family continued to fight for their freedom.
Lee started to lose hope in ever seeing her daughter Hana again.
"Sometimes it felt like I was going fully into a black, deep, hole," she said.
That's when former President Bill Clinton stepped in.
Clinton flew to North Korea for a special meeting with Kim Jong Il. And five months after their arrest, the pair were granted a special pardon. After 140 days of detainment, Lee and Ling touched down on America soil.
Lee was finally able to see her daughter in an emotional moment that many Americans will never forget.
"I wanted to hug her quickly, but I knew she was very overwhelmed with that situation so she hesitated to come to me," Lee explained, "She came to me and it was just wonderful, wonderful. I could feel her soft skin. It was wonderful. I still have goosebumps."
Two years later, Lee says she's finally starting to lead a normal life. She's going back to Journalism School this year.
Tuesday night, Lee opens up about the information she was able to gather about human trafficking prior to her arrest, and what she learned about the epidemic that has become so common in Central Georgia.