University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor by North Korea’s Supreme Court on Wednesday for trying to steal a propaganda sign.
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) March 16, 2016
Warmbier, 21, had been visiting the country with a tour group based out of China when he was arrested on January 2.
The court ruled that Warmbier had committed a crime “pursuant to the U.S. government’s hostile policy toward [North Korea], in a bid to impair the unity of its people after entering it as a tourist,” the state-run government news agency reported on Wednesday.
Warmbier confessed to the crime on February 29, but it is not known whether the confession was coerced by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The country often requires its detainees to make public, scripted confessions.
In the video, he calls his alleged act “the worst mistake of my life.”
Warmbier explained his motive to reporters before his trial, saying that he had tried to take the banner “as a trophy” for a member of the Friendship United Methodist Church in Wyoming, Ohio. He was offered a used car worth $10,000 if he was successful.
Bill Richardson, former governor of New Mexico, met with North Korean diplomats in New York on Tuesday to push for Warmbier’s release. Richardson is also a former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said the department finds the sentencing “unduly harsh” and that it is “increasingly clear” that the DPRK uses U.S. citizens arrested in the country for political purposes.
— Department of State (@StateDept) March 16, 2016
Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson released an emailed statement: “North Korea’s sentencing of Otto Warmbier to 15 years hard labor for a college-style prank is outrageous and shocking, and should not be permitted to stand.”
(Image: Jon Chol Jin/AP)