Otto Warmbier sentenced to 15 years hard labor

State Dept. says detainment "used for political purposes"

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During his trial, Warmbier confessed to stealing a political banner, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s highest court sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor for subversion.

REUTERS/Kyodo

Third-year Commerce student Otto Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor Wednesday for crimes against the North Korean state, the Associated Press reports.

AP reports after a one hour trial before the North Korean Supreme Court, Warmbier was charged with subversion.

The court said Warmbier’s crime was "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,” according to AP.

In a Feb. 28 press conference, Warmbier confessed to attempting to steal a political banner from the Yanggakdo International Hotel in Pyongyang.

Warmbier said he attempted to steal the banner with the support of the United States Government, the Z Society and Friendship United Methodist Church.

Warbier was visiting North Korea on a trip with Young Pioneer Tours and was arrested on Jan. 2 at the Pyongyang Airport.

The North Korean government has previously sentenced Americans to similar sentences of hard labor prior to releasing them. Warmbier's sentence comes less than a day after former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson met with two North Korean diplomats from the United Nations to urge Warmbier's release.

Following Warmbier’s sentencing, Young Pioneer Tours issued a statement via their website acknowledging the update in his detainment.

“[Warmbier’s sentencing] should be viewed in similar context of previous cases of Americans being sentenced in the DPRK,” the statement reads. “We are continuing to work closely with relevant authorities to ensure a speedy and satisfactory outcome for Mr. Warmbier.”

University spokesperson Anthony de Bruyn said the University is not offering additional comment in light of Warmbier’s sentencing.

“The University is aware of the recent media reports regarding Otto Warmbier and remains in touch with his family,” de Bruyn said in an email statement. At the beginning of the U.S. State Department’s daily press briefing Wednesday, Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner condemned Warmbier’s conviction.

“The department believes that the sentence is unduly harsh for the actions Mr. Warmbier allegedly took,” Toner said. “Despite official claims that U.S. citizens arrested in the DPRK are not used for political purposes, it’s increasingly clear from its very public treatment of these cases that the DPRK does exactly that.”

Toner emphasized the State Department’s recommendation against U.S. citizens traveling to North Korea, and urged Warmbier’s release.

“Now that Mr. Warmbier has gone through this criminal process we would urge the DPRK to pardon him and grant him special amnesty and immediate release on humanitarian grounds,” Toner said.

Toner noted Warmbier’s visit with a representative from the Swedish Embassy, which acts as the United States’s protective power in North Korea, prior to Warmbier’s sentencing, and said Warmbier appears to be in “good health.”

“[The Swedish] were able to visit him in prison and were also present at his sentencing,” Toner said.

Toner confirmed that the State Department will continue to be in close contact with the Swedish Embassy.

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