Third-year Commerce student Otto Frederick Warmbier was arrested in North Korea Friday, according to reports from the Korean Central News Agency.
Warmbier, an Echols scholar and a member of Theta Chi Fraternity, is alleged to have committed “a hostile act” against the North Korean government with the support of the U.S. government. North Korean officials said Warmbier is still under investigation and have released few details about the case.
U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner said the department is aware of media reports detailing a U.S. citizen being captured in North Korea and considers the welfare of U.S. citizens one of its highest priorities.
“In cases where U.S. citizens are reported detained in North Korea, we work closely with the Swedish Embassy, which serves as the United States’ Protecting Power in North Korea,” Toner said in an email statement. “We have no further information to share due to privacy considerations.”
Warmbier was with Young Pioneers Tours — a travel agency which provides tours to North Korea — when he was arrested.
The company confirmed in a blog post on Friday that one of their clients has been detained in North Korea and the company is working with officials to resolve the issue.
“Their family have been informed and we are in contact with the Swedish Embassy, (who act as the protecting interest for U.S citizens), who are working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to address the case,” the company wrote. “We are also assisting the U.S Department of State closely with regards to the situation.”
Reuters reported Warmbier has been detained since Jan 2, according to Gareth Johnson, managing director of Young Pioneer Tours.
The China-based company will not comment further than what has already been reported, Johnson said in an email statement to the Cavalier Daily.
“Currently our primary concern is protecting Otto, his family and trying to ensure his speedy release,” Johnson said.
Neither the University nor the State Department has confirmed the length of Warmbier’s detainment.
“The University does not operate study abroad programs in North Korea,” University Spokesperson Anthony de Bruyn said in an email statement. “The University has been in touch with Otto Warmbier’s family.”
The University offered no additional comment.
Warmbier's friends at the University have expressed hope for the safety of their friend.
“We are hoping for the safe return of our friend and brother Otto,” Theta Chi Events Chair Omar Jacobs said in an email statement.