Lisa Ling on Journalists: 'These Are Not Spies'

Lisa LingCourtesy of Lisa Ling
"Nightline" contributor Lisa Ling, right, with her sister Laura, detained in North Korea since March 17.

American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee have been held by the North Korean government since March 17, accused of illegally crossing into the country while on a reporting trip in China for Current TV.

The families of the two detained journalists have so far remained silent, on the advice of the State Department, which says it has been working diligently behind the scenes to get the women released.

Lisa LingPlay

But with a June 4 trial date for Ling and Lee in North Korea approaching, ABC News "Nightline" contributor Lisa Ling -- sister of Laura Ling -- says she received a phone call that changed her mind about going public with her sister's story.

"At 11:00 at night my phone rang, and not having heard her voice for almost three months now, I picked up the phone and she said, 'Hi, Li. It's me.' And I mean I was just astounded.

"And she said, 'I'm still here. I need your help,'" Ling recalled. "And that phone call lasted about four minutes, during which she essentially said look, the only thing that could help us is if our two countries communicate.

VIDEO: Lisa Ling on best chance for sisters releasePlay

"She's really scared," Lisa said of her younger sister, who is 32. "I mean she's terrified."

Lisa said her sister told her that she and Lee were being treated fairly but that "the only thing that is going to help us is if our two countries can talk."

So Lisa is trying to relay her sister's message publicly, urging direct communication between the United States and North Korea even as tensions between the two countries are ratcheting up, with North Korea's recent missile and underground nuclear tests.

"Given everything that's happening in the news -- I mean we're talking about what seems to be a full-blown nuclear standoff, and my little sister and Euna Lee are seemingly in the midst of it, and we just felt like it was really time to try and urge our two countries to communicate on our issue and to separate it," Lisa said. "Our issue is a humanitarian issue, and we hope that our two countries that don't have a diplomatic relationship can come together to resolve this and try and get the girls released."

Video: North Korea holds two U.S. journalists.Play

Lisa Ling: Sister 'Is My Best Friend'

"My sister is my best friend on earth," said Lisa, who reports for several news organizations and is a former co-host of ABC's "The View."

"We both travel all over the world and I don't think that there has been a single day that we haven't spoken. I mean, I can be in the middle of the Himalayas and she can be in the Ukraine, and we'll somehow manage to get a phone call out.

"And so to not have been able to talk to her in months has been so hard."

Lisa said she's been keeping a vigil with her parents and Laura's husband of five years, Iain Clayton.

Since the arrest, Lisa has spent almost every weekend with Euna Lee's husband, Michael Saldate, and the couple's 4-year-old daughter.

"Euna has this beautiful 4-year-old daughter, Hana," Ling said. "And when she walked into the door of our home our hearts just broke because her husband Michael has all of a sudden kind of become a single parent instantly."

Lisa said Lee's prolonged absence is beginning to affect Hana. "She drew a picture the other day that just had her dad and her in it. Her mom wasn't in the picture, and he said that that's the first time that that's ever happened."

Detained Journalists to Face Trial

Ling and Lee are scheduled to go on trial in North Korea Thursday. They've been charged with hostile acts. If found guilty, they could be sentenced to up to 10 years in jail.

"The details of the day they were arrested are very vague," said Lisa. "They were working on a story about the trafficking of women along the China-North Korea border. ... They were expected to be home two days later, so whatever happened that day, it was not their intention to cross the border.

"We don't know if they actually did, but if at any point they crossed into North Korean territory then we profusely apologize on their behalf, because we know that they never intended to do that when they left the United States."

Lisa said the families are anxious about the looming trial date.

"We don't really know much about the trial," she said. "We're told that they're going to have a lawyer appointed to them from North Korea.

"You know they've been there for almost three months, and they have been citing this June 4 trial date, so what we are hoping and praying is that they get a fair trial and when they conclude the trial they will show mercy and let the girls come home to their families."

Lisa Ling: Letters Help Sisters Stay in Touch

Lisa said her sister seems to be getting at least some of the letters she and her family have been sending, which are delivered via the Swedish ambassador to North Korea.

The family has received only one letter from Laura in return, and Lisa wept as she read it.

"When I first got here I cried so much," the letter said. "Now I cry less. I try very hard not to think about the possible negative outcomes, but sometimes it's hard not to. Some days I get to go outside for a few minutes and get some fresh air, which is quite a treat. I breathe deeply and I think about the positive things that happened in the day, like I'm lucky I've gotten through another day."

Lisa said that in that letter, her sister "was very specific about saying that she hopes that our countries can somehow find a way to talk to each other, that they really felt like this is their only chance to get released."

Lisa Ling: Family Moved by Internet Support

Lisa said she and her family have been moved by the outpouring of support they've received online.

"This whole grassroots movement has been born to try and secure the release of the girls and thousands of people have become part of it," said Ling. "People that we have never even met before, who don't even personally know the girls are orchestrating these vigils that are going to be happening all over the country as June 4 starts in North Korea.

"And it's been the most moving, incredible sort of phenomenon to have all of these people sending well wishes and support. And you know the weird thing about something like Facebook and Twitter is I've been at home, like, late at night, and just feeling emotional and I'll post something so intensely personal on Facebook.

Lisa Ling: 'I Miss You, Laura'

"I'll just type, 'I miss you, Laura.' But after I hit update or share I think to myself, like, why did I just post that for thousands of people who I don't know to see?

"For some reason when people who I don't even know send me a message that says, 'We support you and we're praying for you,' or 'We're behind you,' somehow there's like the strangest comfort in that."

Staying hopeful, Lisa said, is what her family is focused on now.

"They've been given three meals a day," said Lisa, and her sister told her she is being treated fairly. "So for that we are deeply, deeply grateful, and if the North does show mercy and release them then we will absolutely thank them profusely."

Lisa said she keeps a positive outlook by envisioning the moment she and her sister are reunited.

"I do believe in the fundamental good in people," she said. "And these are good girls. These are not spies. I mean it's my baby sister, you know?

"I have to believe that the good in people will -- and the truth -- will set them free. I have to believe that."