Families Hold Out Hope for Journalists Detained in North Korea

There has been no word from Laura Ling and Euna Lee since the sentencing.

June 17, 2009 — -- The families of the two American journalists sentenced to hard labor in a North Korean prison camp say they are hoping Laura Ling and Euna Lee will be home in time to celebrate some important family milestones this summer.

Laura Ling's sister, National Geographic contributor Lisa Ling, said Tuesday's news from the North Korean government that the women had admitted crossing into the country illegally and accepted their sentence was the first she'd heard about them since they were sentenced last week.

"We have not heard a peep," Lisa Ling told "Good Morning America" today, adding that the Swedish ambassador has been persistent in trying to see them. "We are extremely concerned because when you tell two women they have been sentenced to 12 years hard labor we can only imagine what their state of mind is."

Lee and Ling were sentenced to 12 years hard labor in notoriously brutal North Korean prison camp, after they were convicted of "hostilities against the Korean nation."

Lisa Ling said they hope that the women's admission of guilt will allow for leniency from the North Korean government.

"We know they are very sorry," she said. "They have apologized, we have apologized, both publicly and privately."

At the time of their arrest, Lee and Ling were reporting along the Chinese-North Korean border for former Vice President Al Gore's Current TV.

Ling's husband, Iain Clayton, has yet to cancel the pair's upcoming trip to celebrate their five-year wedding anniversary, which is June 26.

Clayton said he is still "hopelessly optimistic" that his wife will be able to join him on their trip. He passes the time, he said, thinking about how much he loves her and misses her.

"I think about how scared she must be," he said.

Ling's family is also worried about her medical treatment for a condition exacerbated by stress.

"She has a recurring ulcer," Lisa Ling said, adding that her sister's doctor has petitioned the North Korean government to allow her to see a doctor. "We know that she has been allowed to receive some medication."

Lee's husband, Michael Saldate, left to take care of the couple's 4-year-old daughter, Hannah, alone, said they both hope that she will be home to see their little girl graduate from preschool next week. He said Hannah often asks him to bring her mother home when he leaves.

"I have told her that her mother's at work," he said.

Friends and family have been taking frequent pictures of Hannah, and Saldate said he's been sending them to Lee.

The families' nightmare began three months ago when Ling and Lee were arrested while reporting at the North Korean border. The two have unwittingly become the center of an international standoff as North Korea's nuclear weapons program gains steam.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her concern over the women's fates.

"We've been very careful in what we've said because, clearly, we don't want this pulled into the political issues that we have with North Korea or the concerns that are being expressed to the United States Security Council," she said in an interview before the sentencing.

Gore is also reportedly involved in the effort to bring the women home, though he has yet to speak publicly on the subject.

"I can tell you that Vice President Al Gore has been working so hard to secure the release of the girls," Lisa Ling said today. "He is incredibly worried."

For weeks the families received little word on their loved ones conditions until Laura Ling was allowed to send letters to her family.

"While I am trying to remain hopeful, each day becomes harder and harder to bear. Every day I shed so many tears thinking about this," Ling wrote in a letter to her husband. "I am so lonely, and scared. But baby, thinking of you gives me strength."

She also made a brief phone call to her sister, Lisa Ling, and asked her family to stay strong and keep fighting.

"I picked up the phone, and she said, 'Hi, Li. It's me.' And I thought, 'Where are you?' And she said, 'I'm still here. I need your help,'" Lisa Ling said in an interview with Bob Woodruff earlier this year.