Two U.S. journalists who had been jailed in North Korea but were pardoned Tuesday arrived back in California this morning and will be invited to visit the Bay Area in the next month, a family friend said.
Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who work for San Francisco-based Current TV, were reunited with their families in Los Angeles early this morning after arriving on a plane accompanied by former President Bill Clinton, who traveled to North Korea to negotiate for their release.
Ling and Lee were arrested March 17 near the North Korean border, reportedly while working on a story about human trafficking along the Tumen River border area between China and North Korea.
The women had been convicted in June of illegally entering into and committing “grave crimes” against the country, and were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor.
At a news conference this morning, Ling said, “We feared at any moment we could be sent to a hard labor camp.”
However, on Tuesday they were suddenly told they had a meeting, and came into the meeting to find Clinton waiting for them.
“We were shocked, but we knew instantly that the nightmare of our lives was finally coming to an end,” Ling said.
Rebecca Delgado Rottman, vice president of community relations for San Francisco’s Academy of Art University, said she would be inviting the women and their families to San Francisco to an event in early September after they have had time to recover from their ordeal.
“I was planning another vigil but now I’m going to make it into a celebration,” Rottman said.
Rottman, who talked to Lee’s husband, Michael Saldate, on Tuesday after the families received news of the pardon, said she would “be hearing from them as soon as they’re able to talk.”
Rottman said she had grown close to the families since organizing a vigil in June at the university. Lee graduated from the university’s School of Motion Pictures and Television in 2001.
She said an impromptu celebration held in the city Tuesday evening in the women’s honor was well-attended, and that a representative from Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office had shown up.
Rottman said the event “was like a reunion of all the women who organized the vigils in San Francisco.”
At today’s news conference, Ling reserved a special thank-you for complete strangers who had worked for the pair’s release.
“We could feel your love all the way in North Korea,” she said. “It is what kept us going in the darkest of hours. It was what sustained our faith that we would come home.”
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a statement today commending Clinton and the Obama administration for negotiating the pardon.
“The former president obviously conducted himself in a skillful and dignified fashion, and I applaud the Obama administration’s support of his efforts,” the governor said.
Current TV spokesman Brent Marcus said today that the company is “just celebrating their being back.”
He said there would be more announcements about the women in the days and weeks ahead, but that “right now we’re just overjoyed that they’re here.”