Two Bay Area journalists returned this morning to their families in Southern California after being pardoned by North Korea during a visit to the country by former President Bill Clinton, who made the trip to negotiate for their release.
Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who work for San Francisco-based Current TV, were arrested March 17 near the North Korean border, reportedly while working on a story about human trafficking along the Tumen River border area between China and North Korea.
Rebecca Delgado Rottman, who works for San Francisco's Academy of Art University, said she spoke yesterday with Lee's husband, Michael Saldate, who tallked about their release.
The families of Ling and Lee are both in Burbank where they welcomed the women's return, who were with former president Clinton. According to Rottman, a phone call with Saldate was "just so happy and ecstatic...all we could do was cry, but it was tears of joy."
Rottman, vice president of community relations for the university, said she did not personally know Lee, who graduated from the university's School of Motion Pictures and Television in 2001.
However, she said she has grown close to the families after helping to organize vigils for the jailed journalists, who had been sentenced in June to 12 years of hard labor for illegally entering into and committing "grave crimes" against the country.
Rottman did not know whether the women faced health problems, but said she's sure that "whatever medical problem that ignited during the time will be fixed immediately. The most important and most powerful medicine is to be home with their family."
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger released a statement this afternoon celebrating the release of Ling and Lee.
"Maria and I happily join all Californians in celebrating the pardon of Laura Ling and Euna Lee. Both women risked their lives to search for truth in an area of the world where the press is often censored, and I applaud those who worked to negotiate their pardon," Schwarzenegger said.
"Our heartfelt thoughts are with the families of Euna and Laura, and we wish them both a safe return to California," he said.
Senator Dianne Feinstein also applauded news that North Korea had released the two women.
In an email to the Pleasanton Weekly, Feinstein said:
"I applaud North Korea's decision to release these two California journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, and allow them to return home to their families. This has been an extremely difficult time for all involved, and I am grateful that this humanitarian gesture will allow them to begin a new chapter of their lives."
"I extend my deepest thanks and appreciation to President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and former President Bill Clinton for their quiet but persistent diplomacy, which made this day a reality," Feinstein added.