by Cindy Von Quednow
They all come from different backgrounds and beliefs, but all of them have a few things in common: they are women of color, they are journalists and they have been imprisoned in a foreign country for practicing their trade.
This week, Laura Ling and Euna Lee were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor in North Korea for illegally crossing into the Communist country while working on a documentary about refugees for Current TV. (Although as of this posting, there is little to no coverage on the citizen journalist site and network.)
In the past year, two Iranian-American women, Roxanna Saberi and Esha Momeni were also arrested in Iran for working on their respective projects; Saberi as a foreign correspondent and Momeni was working on her graduate thesis on the women’s right movement in Iran. Saberi’s release made headline news recently, while Momeni was released, but is still not allowed to return to her home in Los Angeles.
Momeni’s case hits close to home for me, as I attend the school where she is a graduate student.
Momeni spent almost a month in solitary confinement at Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison. She remains in her parent’s home country since being arrested in late 2008 for a traffic violation.
Although I have never met Momeni, her determination to uncover issues is an inspiration to me and to aspiring journalists everywhere. The efforts of her friends to bring her home have touched the entire college campus and beyond.
It is easy to forget that the women under arrest are journalists, when in general women are more vulnerable to this type of persecution because of their status as the “other” in repressive societies. Both Iran and North Korea have shameful records on violations of women’s rights and press freedoms, endemic in their overall human rights deficiencies, and both lack diplomatic relations with the U.S.
Also, women’s efforts are often not taken seriously because of their race and gender, when quite often they are experts in the field they are covering. For instance, Ling and Lee have been pegged as “irresponsible” by a radio host in San Diego and accused of putting Americans in danger when relations with the isolated country are already volatile. How can reporting on major international issues that merit attention be considered irresponsible?
For this, Ling and Lee’s respective families have apologized on behalf of their daughters and ask for compassion from the North Korean government in dealing with their case. The apology, I assume, is necessary for diplomatic relations to ensue, but I see it as a ploy to further humiliate these women and to feed into the idea that these women went outside of their prescribed roles as good girls.
Who better to save the day, of course, than men?! Current TV founder Al Gore and Gov. Bill Richardson are being considered as possible envoys to the country. Who knows what kooky sitcom situation would occur if Madam Secretary Clinton showed up in North Korea!
As a woman journalist of color (triple threat?), I hope to one day possess half the tenacity and intrepidness of these women and all the journalists who have died and been imprisoned for the sake of their honest and humble profession, and I hope to face it in a world where there are less restrictions and more equality.