Students and faculty filled the seats and the steps of the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) lecture hall Wednesday afternoon to listen to Euna Lee speak about her experience in captivity in North Korea.
“Many journalists take risks for the important stories. That is the nature of our jobs,” said Lee, a Korean-American journalist turned captive while reporting about defectors from North Korea.
Lee and her colleague, Laura Ling, were captured by troops in North Korea while reporting for Current TV about defectors from North Korea. They were charged with illegal entry and “committing hostilities against the Korean nation,” and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor. They were interrogated for 140 days before being pardoned with the help of former President Bill Clinton.
“She basically became the very subject she covered,” said Dr. Taehyun Kim, journalism professor. He organized the event as a part of the CSUN journalism department’s Annual International News Symposium.
Kim said Lee’s work is “investigative, classic journalism that…made me optimistic about the future of the industry and the future of journalism.”
Lee and Ling ran onto Chinese soil while running from North Korean troops. Lee threw away her coat, in which she kept a list of sources, and discarded her mobile phone to protect the identities of people she had spoken with. Ling fell during the chase, and Lee stayed with her. The two journalists were interrogated separately every day until their release, when were asked to apologize for trespassing. Lee said that she’s grateful every day for being safe at home.
After her speech, Lee answered questions from the audience and signed copies of her book, “The World is Bigger Now,” which details what she learned about the defectors, her imprisonment and how her religious faith was tested during her 140 days in captivity.
Ian Piñon, 22, was impressed that Lee stayed with her colleague when she fell.
“If soldiers are chasing me down with guns I’m running until I can’t run any more,” said the marketing senior, who attended the event after hearing about it during his Asian American studies class. “But the fact that she saw her colleague fall down on the ground, and [Lee] wasn’t about to leave her, I thought that was amazing.”
Lee concluded her lecture on an optimistic note.
“Go after what’s important to you, what touches your heart,” she said.