US Student Released by North KoreaJune 21, 2017 in Uncategorized
A US student was freed this month by North Korea after spending eighteen months in prison, with his family stating that he has been in a coma for a year.
The parents of Otto Warmbier, 22, confirmed shortly after he was released that he was in a coma, stating that he was “brutalized” by a “pariah regime.” The 22-year-old is currently being treated in a US hospital after the flight carrying him landed in Ohio on 13 June.
Mr Warmbier was sentenced to fifteen years of hard labour for attempting to steal a propaganda sign from a hotel. He was in North Korea as a tourist with Young Pioneer Tours when he was arrested on 2 January 2016. He appeared emotional at a news conference a month later, in which he tearfully confessed to trying to take the sign as a “trophy” for a US church, adding, “the aim of my task was to harm the motivation and work ethnic of the Korean people.” Foreign detainees in North Korea have previously recanted confessions, stating that they were made under pressure. After a short trial on 16 March, Mr Warmbier was given a 15-year prison sentence for crimes against the state. Early last month, his parents told CNN that they had had no contact with their son for more than a year.
News of his coma was released on 13 June, with Mr and Mrs Warmbier disclosing in statement “Sadly, he is in a coma and we have been told he has been in that condition since March 2016. We learned of this only one week ago.” They were quoted by the Washington Post as saying that they had been told that Otto had contracted botulism, a rare illness that causes paralysis, soon after his trial in March 2016. North Korea has stated that he was given a sleeping pill after becoming ill after his trial last year and did not wake up. Sources however have indicated that it remains to be seen if Mr Warmbier’s illness is the direct result of brutality in prison, with some stating that there may be added pressure on US President Donald Trump to take action against Kim Jong-un’s regime.
Who Else is Detained in North Korea?
There are reported to be three other US citizens currently in custody in North Korea. They are:
- Kim Dong-chul, a 62-year-old naturalized US citizen born in South Korea, who was sentenced in April 2016 to ten years of hard labour for spying.
- Korean-American professor Kim Sang-duk (or Tony Kim) who was detained in April 2017. The reasons for his arrest currently remain unclear.
- Kim Hak-song, like Kim Sang-duk, worked at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) and was detained in May 2017 on suspicion of “hostile acts” against the state.
The latest arrests have come at a time of heightened tensions between North Korea and the US and its regional neighbours. In the past, the Untied States has accused North Korea of detaining its citizens in a bid to use them as pawns in negotiations over its nuclear weapons programme.