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North Korea pardons Current TV journalists

During visit with former President Bill Clinton, Kim Jong Il issues "special pardon" to two detained U.S. journalists working for the Internet news site co-founded by Al Gore.

Euna Lee
Euna Lee
Current TV

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il issued a "special pardon" to two Current TV journalists who were recently charged for perpetrating "hostile acts" against the communist state, according to various news reports.

We "are overjoyed by the news of their pardon," the journalists' families said in a statement.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton reportedly arrived in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Tuesday in a publicly unannounced visit to meet with Kim. During this meeting, the North Korean leader ordered the two prisoners released, according to the Associated Press.

"While this solely private mission to secure the release of two Americans is on the ground, we will have no comment," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement. "We do not want to jeopardize the success of former President Clinton's mission."

Laura Ling, 32, and Euna Lee, 36, were detained on the Chinese border on March 17 and convicted of sneaking into North Korea illegally. Working for Current TV, a San Francisco-based Internet news and video site co-founded by former Vice President Al Gore, they were reporting on North Korean refugees fleeing to China.

Laura Ling
Laura Ling Current TV

In June, the journalists were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for "the political motive to isolate and stifle the socialist system," according to the Korean Central News Agency. Both Ling and Lee accepted the judgment.

This was Kim's first meeting with an American official since October 2000, when he met with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. After suffering a stroke last August, he has reportedly not met with Western officials from other countries either.

According to the Associated Press, the Korean Central News Agency said the release of the journalists is a sign of North Korea's "humanitarian and peace-loving policy." It is still not clear when the women will be allowed to leave, said The New York Times.

"We are so grateful to our government: President Obama, Secretary Clinton and the U.S. State Department for their dedication to and hard work on behalf of American citizens," Lee and Ling's families said in the statement. "We especially want to thank President Bill Clinton for taking on such an arduous mission and Vice President Al Gore for his tireless efforts to bring Laura and Euna home...We are counting the seconds to hold Laura and Euna in our arms."

The nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists also welcomed the news of the journalists' pardon.

"This has been a long and complex process given the situation on the Korean peninsula," CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney said in a statement. "We thank former President Clinton for his intervention and we are grateful that the North Korean authorities have responded to appeals for clemency."

This post was updated at 3:45 p.m. PDT with comments from the journalists' families and again at 4:45 p.m. PDT with more details.