Hell on Earth: Journalists Face Horror in N. Korea

Torture, beatings and high death rates common

A hellish fate may await two U.S. journalists in a brutal North Korean prison system after being sentenced to 12 years hard labor.

Current TV reporters Laura Ling, the sister of TV star Lisa Ling, and Euna Lee face more than a decade in the labor camps notorious for torture after being slapped with charges on unspecified "hostile acts" against North Korea.

"They are a nasty part of a nasty country," said Colbalsecurity.org intelligence analyst John Pike told the New York Daily News. "They're not as bad as Hitler's concentration camps or Stalin's gulags, but they're a close third."

The families of the two journalists begged for the release of their loved ones today, pleading desperately with the hard-line totalitarian regime to keep the pair out of harm's way.

"We remain hopeful that the governments of the United States and North Korea can come to an agreement that will result in the release of the (women)," said a joint statement released by the families Monday.

"We ask the government of North Korea to show compassion and grant Laura and Euna clemency and allow them to return home to their families."

Ling, 32, has a serious medical condition, a stomach ulcer, and Lee's 4-year-old daughter is showing "signs of anguish over the absence of her mother," according to the statement.

The camps have a high death rate and lack adequate amounts of food and medical supplies.

Punishments for prisoners can be inhuman and brutal, according to Amnesty International, the United Nations and the U.S. State Department.

 "They just beat the hell out of these people," T. Kumar, an Amnesty International expert on North Korea's human rights record told the News.

Those found attempting to escape the camps are often tortured with hot coals while suspended from the ceiling.

When administering punishment to those who are pregnant, officials are known to force abortions or kill infants who are born alive.

If inmates flub the lyrics to "patriotic songs" it can induce beats, forced exercise or public humiliation. Unauthorized communications can lead to beatings with pipes and other instruments, according to the international organizations.

"After the beating, cold water is reportedly poured over the prisoners' bodies even in the middle of winter," Amnesty reported.

Some are forced to drink water until their stomachs burst.

The reporters were working for Al Gore's television station Current TV when they were arrested along the China-North Korea border on March 17.

A former bodyguard of Kim Jong IIl said in 2002 he once saw a prisoner dragged by a car until his skin peeled off -- he was then shot to death before the prisoners, according to Time magazine.

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