A few years ago, I was sitting on my computer when I received an email from my brother, Gotham Chopra. I panicked as I read the words. Gotham was writing from a holding cell beneath an airport in an Islamic country – he had been detained by the authorities who were questioning him for suspected activities. This was several weeks before 9/11. Suprisingly, they had put him in a cell with a computer and an internet connection – and so Gotham was able to email me!
Gotham was a news reporter for Channel One News at the time. (He later helped launch Current TV, and helped recruit Laura Ling, one of his best friends, to the network.) Gotham was overseas doing a story on the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, and had met several notorious leaders. He was gifted a trigger from an antique rifle by one of them, and had thrown it into his backpack as he rushed back to the city to catch their flight. When he was detained, he had the trigger, was of Indian origin with an American passport, and was carrying $1500 in cash. Considering this nation's frayed relationship with the US, their suspicions were understandable.
Within an hour, I had tracked down my father, Deepak Chopra, who was able to contact friends in the government to tell them about Gotham’s predicament. Fortunately for us, the authorities had let Gotham go before anyone needed to get involved. However, I will never forget the gripping fear I had thinking about my younger brother held in a foreign land that had a tense relationship with the US.
When Laura Ling and Euna Lee were detained in North Korea in mid-March, and Gotham was made aware of the situation by his good friend and Laura's sister, Lisa, we initially had hopes that Laura and Euna would be returned quickly. Unfortunately, their situation took on the worst scenario – they became negotiating pawns in a much higher stakes game, multilateral talks concerning North Korea’ s recent missile test and nuclear program. From what we know, and has been reported in the press, Laura and Euna have now been held separately for over two months in a boarding house outside of the North Korean capital Pyongyang. Without direct relations with North Korea, the US State Department has in large part relied on a Swedish diplomat who has had two brief meetings with the girls.
Laura is a vivacious, passionate, kind person whom I have admired and enjoyed being around. She is one of my brother’s best friends, and he would do anything for her. And yet, he and Laura’s devoted family and other friends, feel helpless.
Euna, by all accounts, is equally an impressive and admirable person with a family situation that has made this predicament all the more agonizing. Both the Ling and Lee family have been urged to stay as discreet as possible by the US government, citing that their direct involvement in any sort of public form may complicate matters.
As a big sister, who experienced the panic of uncertainty for only a short while when Gotham was detained, my heart goes out to the families of Laura and Euna. Their feeling of helplessness must be unbearable.
These are two young women who have suffered immeasurably. They have had little to no contact with the outside world since their detainment and are now facing an unimaginable fear as their case is taken to trial in a legal proceeding that has no precedent in North Korea. They are undoubtedly scared, and hoping that those of us back home can do something before their trial.
I pray that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama, both of whom I admire enormously and have supported with campaign contributions and votes, heed the call to engage with North Korea in a responsible way to secure these young women's release, as well as address the long-term instability of the region. Talks of a mission by Al Gore, former Vice President and founder of Current TV, would demonstrate to the North Koreans that the US is serious about a dialogue. Now is the time to come up with creative, long-term solutions, and new ways of conflict resolution, to secure the stability for our future generations. Letting Laura and Euna go would be a noble step for the North Koreans to begin this process.
This coming Thursday, May 21 2009, there will be a series of candlelight vigils held across the US to pray for the prompt release of Laura and Euna. I hope you will join if you can. Please also support my intent to pray for the immediate release of both girls so they can come home. For those of us who feel so helpless, perhaps this is a way that we can make a statement and take some action for these two young women. Please help spread the word so that we can peacefully bring awareness to their situation.
If you are on Facebook, you can join the group: Detained In North Korea : Journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, please help.If you are on Twitter, follow @LiberateLaura for updates. They will both announce more details on the vigils. Here is the current schedule and locations. 5/21 Los Angeles vigil: 6:30-8:00pm, Stories Bookstore 1716 Sunset Blvd. Orlando vigil: 6:30-8:00pm, Baldwin Park. Portland vigil: 6:30-8:00pm, Patton Square Park NYC candlelight vigil: 6:00-8:00pm, 49th St. at Rockefeller Plaza Chicago vigil: 1:00-2:00pm, Richard J. Daley Plaza. Also Read:
If you are on Facebook, you can join the group: Detained In North Korea : Journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, please help.If you are on Twitter, follow @LiberateLaura for updates. They will both announce more details on the vigils. Here is the current schedule and locations.
Los Angeles vigil: 6:30-8:00pm, Stories Bookstore 1716 Sunset Blvd.
Orlando vigil: 6:30-8:00pm, Baldwin Park.
Portland vigil: 6:30-8:00pm, Patton Square Park
NYC candlelight vigil: 6:00-8:00pm, 49th St. at Rockefeller Plaza
Chicago vigil: 1:00-2:00pm, Richard J. Daley Plaza.
Mallika Chopra is the founder of Intent.com, a site focused on personal, social and global wellness