Journalist Laura Ling to speak about rights at Iowa Women Lead Change conference

Ling hopes to inspire women to create change, foster support

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Journalist Laura Ling has traveled the globe to report on human rights issues and — making headlines herself — been held captive in a North Korean prison camp. Next week, Ling will travel to Cedar Rapids, as part of the Iowa Women Lead Change conference, to speak about her experiences.

Ling said by telephone Friday that she intends to talk during her Thursday lunch keynote about the various human rights issues she’s covered that “changed (her) perspective of the world.” Also included in her speech will be stories on the lack of rights Ling has seen through her work as well as about when she lost her own freedom.

In March 2009, Ling and colleague Euna Lee were reporting on a story about human trafficking and shooting video along the border of China and North Korea when North Korean soldiers arrested them. The two were found guilty of illegal entry and sentenced to 12 years in a prison camp. Then-Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il pardoned them in August 2009.

Ling said many Americans have commended her bravery for enduring a brutal beating along the North Korean border and further hardship while in captivity.

“I felt fear in every bone of my body, and I did not feel brave or courageous at all,” she said. “It was almost like a day-to-day, hour-by-hour situation where I would just look at it like, ‘just get through the next hour, just get through the next day, just get through the next week.’

“Along the way I did become stronger. I did realize that I had certain strengths that I didn’t know existed that eventually got me through that time.”

Ling said she hopes to impart to IWLC conference attendees on Thursday a desire to further fight for sisterhood and support she said all women deserve. It was something she said she was able to recognize even during her captivity.

“There were women guards guarding me at all times,” Ling recalled. “There were always at least two guards in the room attached to mine.

“I think because we were women, we were able to connect with each other on a more human level. I was able to experience glimmers of humanity and compassion from them. Women have an ability to transmit a special kind of humanity and compassion.”

Today, Ling said she is all the more thankful she can experiences the joys and difficulties of raising her two children.

“They are, right now, my biggest accomplishment, my biggest challenge,” she said.

“I hope that women leave (the conference) feeling empowered and inspired to not only improve their lives, but that of others. I hope that people leave feeling a deeper appreciation for the liberties we have and the responsibility that comes with those liberties ... to stand up for justice and equality.”

The Gazette is a media sponsor of the conference.

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