Laura Ling Tells The Story of Her Escape from North Korea

Laura Ling spoke at Auburn University Monday, April 3, telling listeners that former President Bill Clinton’s kindness helped her escape after spending 140 days trapped in North Korea.

“I swear he had a halo hovering over his head,” Ling recounted, remembering the day she saw a face from home after being trapped in a North Korean prison for months. This was the day before she would leave and return home to the United States.

According to Ling, she traveled to Northeastern China doing journalistic work to document the lives of various women who were trafficked from North Korea, sold into marriages, lured into prostitution and denied of their basic rights. She said she was working for Current TV, a news network co-founded by Al Gore.

North Korean soldiers snatched Ling and her fellow reporter on March 17, 2009, when their guide took them to the Tumen River. Ling said that this river, which was a boundary between North Korea and China, was frozen, so she and her team walked across it and took pictures.

Ling said she was less concerned for her own physical well-being and more concerned for the safety of the people she interviewed. She ripped out and swallowed some notebook pages that she worried would be too critical of the North Korean government.

The North Korean government sentenced Ling to 12 years of hard labor for her work as a journalist. However, she said she was there for 140 days when Clinton arrived to her rescue.

Clinton was the first leader to make a phone call to Kim Jong Il when his father died over 20 years ago, Ling said, and “he always remembered that gesture and wanted to meet [Clinton] ever since.”

Ling uses this example of Clinton’s kindness to the North Korean leader decades ago to prove how important the things people say and do today are.

“I just think it’s wild that one possible reason for our release can be traced back to that very simple phone call that happened so many years ago,” Laura said. “The things we do today have ripple effects that can impact our lives and others in ways we can never imagine.”

Before Ling walked up to the podium, the Mosaic Theater Company presented poems intended to highlight diversity. Next, Xiong Ying and Li Qing played Chinese folk music using the Chinese pipa and zither.