North Korea’s leader should take the lead from Iran, which released an Iranian-American reporter this week, and immediately drop their case against two American journalists who are set to go to trial on 4 June for allegedly entering the country illegally, the International Press Institute said today.

North Korea’s state-run news agency reported that two American journalists who were seized in March would be tried on 4 June for illegal entry and “hostile acts”. Euna Lee and Laura Ling of US-based Current TV could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

“Iran’s trial of Roxana Saberi was a farce, but at least the appellate court did the right thing in setting her free”, IPI Director David Dadge said. “North Korea should avoid more political theatre and do the same with Euna Lee and Laura Ling, who are innocent victims of North Korea’s desire to gain political leverage in its ongoing negotiations with the United States”.

The 14 May announcement that the women would be tried came three days after an appeals court in Iran freed Roxana Saberi, the Iranian-American journalist who was arrested in January and later charged with espionage. Her case attracted concerted pressure from IPI and other press freedom groups, and in an apparent concession to international outcry over the case, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wrote a letter to the appeals court urging it to be fair in its review.

Both Iran and North Korea have been locked in running disputes with the United States over their long-range missile systems and efforts to develop nuclear capabilities. Washington has been at the forefront of international efforts to isolate both nations, although the Obama administration has opened the door to negotiations.

Lee and Ling were arrested on 17 March. At the time of their capture, they were preparing a report on the growing number of North Koreans who are fleeing their repressive and economically devastated homeland.

One of the world’s most isolated nations, North Korea is intolerant of both domestic and foreign reporting. According to IPI’s World Press Freedom Review 2008, the country has the worst press freedom record in the world, with the repressive dictatorship of Kim Jong-il retaining complete control of the media while maintaining a blanket ban on foreign journalists.