Two American journalists being held by North Korea, allegedly for illegally entering that country, no doubt will be used as pawns by that repressive and unpredictable government.
Longtime observers of the communist regime predict Laura Ling and Euna Lee won't serve the 12 years of hard labor they were sentenced to on Monday. But no one knows what North Korea will want for their release, or how long it will take to find out.
North Korea held 82 crewmen of the USS Pueblo for 11 months, after seizing the ship in international waters in 1968. Beaten and tortured, the Americans admitted to illegally entering North Korea and committing hostile acts - the same charges leveled against Ling and Lee. Only after the Johnson administration agreed to apologize for the false violations were the U.S. sailors released.
That level of kowtowing may not suffice this time. North Korea wants to derail a U.S.-led effort to impose tough U.N. Security Council sanctions against it for conducting a May 25 underground nuclear bomb test and for recently test-firing a long-range missile.
With Ling and Lee in captivity, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has had to go from threatening to put North Korea back on the list of terrorist-sponsoring nations to pleading that the two young women be released on humanitarian grounds.
Among those praying for Lee and Ling is Roxana Saberi, who only weeks ago was being held in an Iranian prison on trumped-up, politically motivated charges. "I am shocked and saddened," she said about Ling and Lee's plight.
The women apparently were gathering information about North Korean refugees on March 17 when they were detained near the border with China. Their imprisonment is a reminder of the perils journalists face. At least 16 have been killed this year. Among them:
Nepalese reporter Uma Singh, 27, who was stabbed Jan. 11 by Maoists who objected to her reports tying them to the murder of her father and brother in 2006.
Anastasiya Baburova, 25, a freelance reporter for Moscow's Novaya Gazeta, was fatally shot along with human-rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov on Jan. 19.
The decapitated body of Francis Nyaruri, a newspaper reporter who covered police corruption in Kenya, was found Jan. 29 after he had been missing two weeks.
Cultural blogger Omidreza Mirsayafi, 28, died mysteriously March 18 in a Tehran prison, where he was serving time for "insulting" the ruling ayatollahs.
Jose Everardo Aguilar, 72, known for his radio commentaries criticizing corruption in Colombia, was shot three times April 24 at his home in Cauca.
The Committee to Protect Journalists also reports that 125 were imprisoned last year. This year's growing count includes Lee and Ling. Here's hoping that North Korea, which apparently is undergoing a leadership change, will choose to burnish its image by letting the women go.