CINCINNATI, Ohio — North Korea has released an American student who was sentenced to 15 years hard labor last year, and who has been in a coma ever since.
“We want the world to know how we and our son have been brutalized and terrorized by the pariah regime,” Fred and Cindy Warmbier said in a 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.”
Otto Warmbier, 22, was transported back to the United States on Tuesday and rushed to a hospital in Cincinnati. An unconfirmed report from North Korea states that Warmbier had contracted botulism following his trial, and was given a sleeping pill, but never woke up.
As previously reported, Warmbier, a University of Virginia undergraduate, was charged with subversion and sentenced in March 2016 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 2016 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.
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.
Christian News Network contacted Friendship United Methodist Church, led by Meshach Kanyion, last March to obtain comment as to whether there was validity to the claims. Secretary Nancy Feverston, who took the call, laughed and said that Friendship United Methodist was not offering any comment.
Warmbier tearfully pleaded for mercy as he read from the statement, which some suspiciously questioned as 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!”
Regardless of what happened surrounding the poster, American officials state that it was wrong for the North Korean government to hold Warmbier.
“Otto’s detainment and sentence was unnecessary and appalling, and North Korea should be universally condemned for its abhorrent behavior,” Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said in a statement. “Otto should have been released from the start. For North Korea to imprison Otto with no notification or consular access for more than a year is the utmost example of its complete failure to recognize fundamental human rights and dignity.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the State Department secured Warmbier’s release at the direction of President Trump.
“Let me reiterate this: We strongly, strongly suggest that Americans do not go to North Korea,” Department spokesperson Heather Nauert also told the Washington Post.