North Korea Sentences Virginia Student to 15 Years Hard Labor for Stealing Poster for Alleged ‘Church Trophy’

Warmbier-compressedPYONGYANG — Officials in North Korea have sentenced a Virginia student to 15 years hard labor for stealing a political poster from a hotel—an act that the student claims he was urged to do as a “church trophy” in exchange for a car.

Otto Warmbier, 21, a University of Virginia undergraduate, was charged with subversion and sentenced on Monday by the North Korean Supreme Court, which considered the theft of the banner as part of an anti-regime plot in cooperation with the U.S. government.

It asserted that Warmbier acted “pursuant to the U.S. government’s hostile policy toward [the North], in a bid to impair the unity of its people after entering it as a tourist.”

Warmbier had been taken into custody in January as he sought to board a flight back to America from the Pyongyang Sunan International Airport. It was found that while touring the country on a trip organized by the Chinese-based Young Pioneer Tours, he had stolen a poster from a North Korean hotel.

Last month, Warmbier was brought out before reporters to read a confession, during which time he said that he took the banner for the mother of a friend who allegedly wanted the sign as a “trophy” to display at Friendship United Methodist Church in Wyoming, Ohio.

He said that the friend had offered a used car worth $10,000 in return for the poster. Warmbier also stated that he had been told that if he was detained, a donation of $20,000 would be made to his mother.

He stated that he agreed because his family was “suffering from very severe financial difficulties.” Warmbier also said that he was trying to join the University of Virginia’s “Z Society,” which he claims encouraged him in the act as well.

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Christian News Network contacted Friendship United Methodist Church, led by Meshach Kanyion, to obtain comment as to whether there was validity to Warmbier’s claim. Secretary Nancy Feverston, who took the call, laughed and said that they were not offering any comment.

Warmbier tearfully pleaded for mercy last month as he read from a statement, which some question as possibly being scripted by North Korean officials.

“I wish that the United States administration never manipulate people like myself in the future to commit crimes against foreign countries,” he said. “I entirely beg you, the people and government of the DPRK, for your forgiveness. Please! I made the worst mistake of my life!”

Organizations such as Human Rights Watch believe that Warmbier’s sentence is too harsh for the theft of a political poster.

“North Korea’s sentencing of Otto Warmbier to 15 years hard labor for a college-style prank is outrageous and shocking,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for the organization, in a statement. “Pyongyang should recognize this student’s self-admitted mistake as a misdemeanor offense that it would be in most countries, release him on humanitarian grounds and send him home.”

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  • bowie1

    Here in Canada such an act would be considered a minor offense with perhaps a fine for theft under $5000.

    • Paige Turner

      Yes but this is Nth Korea and the USA is still at war with North Korea.

  • TammyHenson

    While I think the punishment is too harsh, I do feel it makes a statement. We are spoiled brats in this country & feel we can just do as we absolute please no matter where we go. We’re Americans right? Well, it doesn’t quite work like that, especially in a country like North Korea. Why in the world would u even admit that you wanted it for a church? They hate Christians. And then, this very example backs up what they’ve believed all alone: Christians suck. Not only is stealing a crime but it’s also against God’s Word – which again, they hate. This backs up the ‘hypocrite’ stereo-type that so many of us have to live with every day of our lives. Those of us who truly seek to serve the Lord, no matter the kindness we show, always have this sign of ‘hypocrite’ stamped on our backs. So, yes, the punishment is way harsh but I hope it speaks to those of us who think they can do whatever wherever.

  • JodyLynn Harris

    This looks so damn fake. Seriously I’ve seen better acting on Sesame Street. Something is fake about all of this. I seriously doubt he is even “arrested.” I guaranty this is a set up and it’s to support the same propaganda that he supposedly tried to steal – to put their OWN people in check with fear. This is so fake. Even the way he is being “walked” by guards is so freaking FAKE. He seriously is acting like a commie working with N Korea to slander the U.S. and put fear into Koreans and make them look powerful to locals like they have control of Americans, too. I can’t watch this fake video with a straight face. I just can’t. This man’s behavior is not of a man who is seriously facing “hard time” for 15 years. This man is a shill being paid to do this.

    • bowie1

      I must be missing something since all I see is a photo on top of this article unless you are referring to one of the nightly news broadcasts. But what they sometimes do is to issue a threat if they don’t confess their alleged crime as if they were guilty while in front of the cameras.

    • TammyHenson

      I must admit watching the video, the kid seemed to be trying to force the tears. The arrest was real though. As much as NK hates us, the sentence sounds like something they would put on someone from here. Heck, they may put the same sentence on someone that lives there. They don’t play.

  • Irene C

    He knew where he was, he knew what he was doing at the moment of STEALING the sign. A truth christian would not do something like that in his country or wherever country he goes. I agreed with some of the comments that the new looks so fake but we don’t know we just know that this happened there and we need to learn how to respect our country and other countries law.

  • xinthose

    God help him. He sinned and has repented.

    • Paige Turner

      God isn’t allowed in North Korea. The Kim’s are the Gods.

  • WorldGoneCrazy

    Thou shalt not steal, even in North Korea. Especially in North Korea. And to steal for the purpose of a false prosperity “gospel” is to pile sin upon sin.

    Assuming this story is real of course.

    • Paige Turner

      North Korea is an Atheist country

      • WorldGoneCrazy

        Precisely. If you want to see how atheism ruins a country, check out this nighttime satellite pic of the Korean Peninsula (remove the 2 spaces):

        http://earthobservatory .nasa .gov/IOTD/view.php?id=83182

        • Paige Turner

          I think that you’re mixing Atheism up with the fact that North Korea is a Stalinist Regime with significant sanctions against it from the UN. They also have few natural resources and allies. They are also still at war with many countries as there was no official end to the Korean war. They were also occupied by the Japanese for many years. It has been a grim political history.

          It has absolutely nothing to do with religion.

          • WorldGoneCrazy

            It has everything to do with no freedom of religion. Are you actually trying to separate Stalin from his atheism too? 🙂

          • Paige Turner

            North Korea isn’t bound by the US constitution. There is no religion at all so freedom of religion is redundant as is your comment.

            The Kim’s are essentially Gods and run a cult of personality.

          • DALALLGOO

            Korea was not divided by North and South during WWII Japanese (actually1910-1945) occupation and North Korea came about at the end of the war when it was occupied by the Soviet Union and then became the Communist country it is today.

          • Paige Turner

            Thanks for the history lesson however I did not claim that the countries were divided during WW2.

            The North and South were split by the along the 38 parallel in 1945 when Japan surrendered. It became the boundary in 1948.

            An armistice ended the Korean war in 1953 however technically North Korea is still at war

            North Korea is a religion free country due to its Cult of personality (The Kim’s) and the fact that its a Stalinist regime.

        • gizmo23

          How does having technology bring us closer to God and make us a better country?

          • WorldGoneCrazy

            North Korea spends most of its money on technology and little of it on food for their people. You have constructed a strawman that no one is defending.

            But, on the plus side, you are an excellent apologist for a brutal atheistic regime. No surprise, since you also defend Planned Parenthood. 🙂

  • The Skeptical Chymist

    Who in their right mind would advise a young man (or an American of any age or gender, for that matter) to travel to North Korea? Everyone knows that this country seeks every opportunity to humiliate or embarrass the United States. A young person traveling there is putting himself at extreme risk, regardless of whether he does something as stupid as stealing a poster. It is just too easy for the government to concoct some trumped-up charge, and there is nothing that he can do to defend himself. This outcome was not merely the fault of a young college student who did something stupid. It was the result of extremely poor advice from all the adults in his life. At every step of the way he should have been advised not to go, or even forbidden to travel there by the people who care about him.

    • TammyHenson


  • George Jenkins

    You go to North Korea. You intentionally steal a propaganda poster, not a towel or a mug, as “souvenir”. You get caught. Well………….you pay the price. North American and European rules do NOT apply there. I remember flying into Kuala Lumpur and having the pilot come on and say that the death penalty applied to people caught bringing drugs into Malaysia. Every country makes its own laws. Mock them or call them unfair all you want; but when you are in that country you had better obey them.

  • Gena B

    Okay here’s a short list; When you go to North Korea…do not touch anything, say anything or leave anything behind. Don’t look or meet with anyone, don’t accidentally drop anything, but most of all remember to not ever GO to North Korea and any repercussions of 15 years hard labor can be avoided. They don’t like us, are paranoid and have no sense of humor.