That’s what the Washington Post reported. Laura Ling and Euna Lee, the two jailed American journalists, were working on a story about the trafficking of North Korean women in the border area of China and North Korea when they were detained. As you’ve no doubt heard, the two journalists have been sentenced to 12 years in a N. Korean labor camp, while people and governments around the world try their best to secure their release.
The trafficking of North Korean women in China is a longstanding issue that human rights groups have continually called the world’s attention to. Thousands of North Koreans have fled famine, poverty, and political repression and crossed into the border. However, younger or middle-aged North Korean women who do so have run smack into China’s own demographic problem: the woman shortage (30 million single men by 2020). The Post article provides a good overview of the situation. Chinese men that are older or can’t find a wife through more normal means buy north Korean wives. Though it would probably be hard to find reliable information on buying a north Korean wife, there are a few douchey posts about this where the price of a wife is listed as around 10,000RMB.
The Chinese media has some articles on this subject as well, though nothing very comprehensive. There are various organizations of people that smuggle the North Korean women over the border. In one case, of the men that were caught, one was given as much as a twenty year sentence, while others received as little as two or three years. Little is said in these articles about the Chinese government policy of denying these women political refugee status, much less the ethics of the repatriation policy.
You can see some moving photos of North Korean refugees here.