North Korea sentenced Otto Warmbier, a Virginia college student, to 15 years hard labor for attempting to steal a political banner, which is considered a crime against the state. Otto Frederick Warmbier made a tearful appeal, admitting he made “the biggest mistake of his life” when speaking in court last month. Today’s conviction and sentencing occurred within an hour’s time in North Korea.
KTLA 5 News reports on March 16 that Warmbier was arrested back on January 2, 2016, just as he was about to board a flight and leave the country. The 21-year-old American college student attempted to steal that political banner from his hotel room in the capital city of North Korea. This young tourist will now spend time in one of the world’s most notorious hard-labor prison systems. The 15-year sentence will hopefully be shortened somewhere down the line, as the U.S. is already reaching out trying to get the student back home.
During his sentencing last month Warmbier read a statement to the court suggesting he was manipulated into doing this by U.S. officials. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the statement was created for the captive student to read. MSN News reports that Warmbier was put on trial and convicted and sentenced, all within an hour during today’s appearance in court. This undergraduate student was pretty much on his own, as no one from the U.S. came to this trial due to the strained relations with North Korea. The Swedish Embassy, which has acted as a go-between in cases such as this, did send a representative to the trial.
The very distraught Warmbier read a statement in court last month, breaking down in tears. He said:
“I committed the crime of taking down a political slogan from the staff holding area of the Yanggakdo International Hotel. I never, never should have allowed myself to be lured by the United States administration to commit a crime in this country,” he said tearfully, as he begged for forgiveness.“I wish that the United States administration never manipulate people like myself in the future to commit crimes against foreign countries. I entirely beg you, the people and government of the DPRK, for your forgiveness. Please! I made the worst mistake of my life!”
The North Korean government claims that Warmbier was encouraged to commit the “hostile act” and they even suggested a source from where that encouragement came from. They claim a member of an Ohio church and a secretive university organization manipulated him into doing this. They even cited the CIA as having a hand in the tourist attempting crimes against the state.
Warmbier was traveling with a tour company when he visited North Korea. That tour company’s website said that it is aware of his sentencing and that it should “be viewed in similar context of previous cases of Americans being sentenced in the DPRK.” Two Americans, Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller, were recently released by North Korea. They were also accused of perpetrating “hostile acts” against North Korea. Miller was sentence to six years hard labor, but spent less than a year in custody and Bae’s 15-year sentence, was cut short and he was let go after two years.
Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who is a veteran diplomat and a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, met with North Korean diplomats. He is lobbying for Warmbier’s release. North Korea is being accused of using American detainees as “political pawns” during a tension-riddled time.
Why would any American tour travel to North Korea in the volatile culture spawned by their government today? Didn’t the tour company warn the group that this is not America and even the slightest infraction, like attempting to steal a political banner, can put you in a North Korea prison for a very long time? What this college kid did would be a slap on the hand prank here in the U.S., but in North Korea, this could basically ruin his life.