SEOUL — North Korea was expected to put two American television journalists on trial today for allegedly entering the country illegally as vigils calling for their release were held in at least nine cities across the United States, including Los Angeles.
Laura Ling and Euna Lee, journalists working for San Francisco-based Current TV, were arrested after they allegedly crossed the border from China on March 17 while reporting a story on North Korean refugees.
Pyongyang announced that it will put the pair on trial for unspecified "hostile acts," but a sister of one of the detained women told a rally in Los Angeles on Wednesday night that the journalists never intended to cross the border into North Korea.
"As we stand here tonight, it is entirely possible that my sister Laura and Euna Lee are standing trial in a North Korean courtroom. I know they are scared," Lisa Ling said at a vigil at a Santa Monica restaurant that drew several hundred people.
She also criticized the failure of the Obama administration to win the women's release.
The families have begun an online petition calling for the women's freedom.
"It seems so simple, why doesn't someone in our government pick up the phone and call someone from their government? Well, that would be far too easy," Ling said. "Right now, the only way the U.S. communicates with North Korea is through a third-party, neutral country."
A Japanese television station reported last week that former Vice President Al Gore, chairman of Current TV, may travel to Pyongyang to help negotiate release of the women.
A spokesman for Current TV would not comment on the report.
Lisa Ling said at the Santa Monica vigil that her sister and Lee were being charged with "illegal entry" and "hostile acts."
"My sister is strong, but there is nothing hostile about her," she said.
"Euna is the mother of the most angelic 4-year-old daughter, hardly a threatening character."
Times staff photographer Sachi Cunningham contributed to this report.