Otto Warmbier, a 21-year-old U.S student, Virginia’s University, was held captive by authorities in January in an attempt of stealing an item a propaganda slogan from his hotel in Pyongyang, regarding North Korean media statements. Thus, North Korea’s Supreme Court sentenced the American student to 15 year of hard labor on Wednesday for crimes against the state; noting that the student was arrested during a visit to the country.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia division, stated through an email about his own vision of the court’s decision saying “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.”
While the state-controlled KCNA news agency reported, using the acronym for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea that “The accused confessed to the serious offense against the DPRK he had committed, pursuant to the U.S. government’s hostile policy toward it, in a bid to impair the unity of its people after entering it as a tourist.” From the other side, Human Rights Watch condemned the sentence handed down to the student from Wyoming, Ohio.
Visibly distressed, Warmbier with his bowed head was seen in a pictured published by Japan’s Kyodo news agency as he was led from the courtroom by two guards
Warmbier told a media conference in Pyongyang last month that his crime was “very severe and pre-planned.” He was at the end of a five-day New Year’s group tour of North Korea when he was delayed at airport immigration before the officials took him away, according to the tour operator that had arranged the trip.
Warmbier’s defence attorney said the gravity of his crime was such that he would not be able to pay even with his death but proposed to the court a sentence that is reduced from the prosecution’s request of a life sentence, KCNA said.
Noting that, Warmbier’s sentencing comes as North Korea is increasingly isolated, with the U.N. Security Council imposing tough new resolutions earlier this month following the North’s January nuclear test and last month’s long-range rocket launch.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this week said the North would soon test a nuclear warhead and ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, in what would be a direct violation of U.N. resolutions backed by its chief ally, China.
Warmbier is not the first, in-fact North Korea has a long history of detaining foreigners and has used jailed Americans in the past to extract high-profile visits from the United States, with which it has no formal diplomatic relations. North Korea is also holding a Korean-Canadian Christian pastor it sentenced to hard labor for life in December for subversion; despite a Korean American and three other South Korean nationals, whom the North is holding.
Noting that it has handed down lengthy sentences to foreigners before freeing them in the past, for instance in 2014, North Korea released three detained Americans.
Former Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, who had previously travelled to North Korea, met the North’s ambassador to the United Nations on Tuesday to press for the release of Warmbier, the New York Times reported.
“I urged the humanitarian release of Otto, and they agreed to convey our request,” Richardson was quoted as saying.
While most tourists to North Korea are from China, roughly 6,000 Westerners visit annually, though the United States and Canada advise against it. Most visitors are curious about life in the reclusive state and ignore critics who say their dollars prop up a repressive regime.