North Korea's jailing of two American journalists is being sharply condemned by members of the U.S. Congress.
As the families of Euna Lee and Laura Ling, both sentenced to 12 years imprisonment in a North Korean labor camp, appealed for their release and the Obama administration considered its next steps, members of Congress added their voices.
In the House of Representatives, California Republican Ed Royce, a member of the House Asia-Pacific Subcommittee, said the court proceedings that culminated in the sentencing of Lee and Ling were "a cruel joke".
"The North Korea regime has shown its true colors - a hostile regime bent on destroying the lives of its own citizens and others. Let's be clear. These two would not have been near North Korea were it not for the barbaric cruelty of its regime. Ling and Lee were convicted of so-called 'grave crimes'. [But] it is the North Korean regime that commits real grave crimes against millions of North Koreans every day. President Obama himself must make it clear that this action cannot stand," he said.
Echoing remarks heard from other lawmakers, Texas Republican Ted Poe accused North Korea of using the two American journalists to extract concessions from the United States.
"They are being used as political prisoners to try to force this administration to give more concessions and American money to North Korea. North Korea is starving [and] the communist regime is bankrupt. But they want to be able to sell nuclear technology to terrorist nations. So they are holding these journalists [for] ransom until they get their way. The journalists should go free and the North Korean outlaws should take their place in that prison," he said.
The two young female journalists were detained in March along North Korea's border with China, while preparing a report on refugees for Current TV, a media company co-founded by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.
New Mexico Governor and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson, who has acted as an intermediary with North Korea in the past, has voiced optimism that diplomatic efforts could be successful in securing their release.
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have called on Pyongyang to release Lee and Ling on humanitarian grounds.
The sentencings of the two journalists, and Pyongyang's latest nuclear test and short-range ballistic missile launches, have substantially sharpened the already negative tone on Capitol Hill regarding North Korea.