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Otto Frederick Warmbier (born December 12, 1994) is an American citizen who is incarcerated in North Korea after having been convicted and sentenced to 15 years' hard labor for "hostile acts against the DPRK". He was arrested over the alleged theft of a political propaganda poster, on January 2, 2016, during a tour in North Korea with an independent travel company. Warmbier remains incarcerated in North Korea. It is not clear whether or not Warmbier will serve the full 15 year sentence.Contents
Warmbier grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio and graduated from Wyoming High School in 2013. At Wyoming, he played varsity soccer and graduated as Salutatorian. Warmbier went on to study for a double major degree in commerce and economics at the University of Virginia.Travel to North Korea
Warmbier traveled to North Korea as a tourist with the Young Pioneer Tours company on a tour. During his travel, he allegedly stole a propaganda sign from a staff-only area in the Yanggakdo International Hotel in Pyongyang, where he was staying along with around 100 other westerners, including other American citizens.Theft
On March 18, North Korea's news agency released a video purporting to show the theft itself. In the 18-second low-resolution video, a shadowed figure (whose face remains hidden) removes the sign from the wall and places it on the floor, leaning against the wall. This action is shown twice, followed by a higher-resolution picture of the sign on the wall.Arrest and conviction
On January 2, Warmbier was arrested while in the process of departing North Korea from the Pyongyang airport. The other guests in his tour group all left the country without incident. His alleged crime was called an "act of hostility against the state" by the North Korean government. On February 29, 2016, he confessed to stealing a piece of North Korean propaganda to take back to the United States as a "trophy" for someone from his home-town church who offered to pay him for it with the gift of a car worth $10,000. The poster said, "Let's arm ourselves strongly with Kim Jong-il's patriotism!" Harming such items with the name or image of one of their leaders is considered a serious crime in North Korea. Kim Jong-il is the father of current leader Kim Jong-un.
On March 16, two hours after veteran American diplomat Bill Richardson met with two North Korean diplomats from the United Nations office to press for Warmbier's release, Warmbier was reportedly sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. His confession reads as follows:
I never, never should have allowed myself to be lured by the United States administration to commit a crime in this country, I wish that the United States administration never manipulate people like myself in the future to commit crimes against foreign countries. I entirely beg you, the people and government of the DPRK, for your forgiveness. Please! I made the worst mistake of my life!Foreign reaction
Other countries and organizations have condemned Warmbier's sentence. Human Rights Watch called the sentencing "outrageous and shocking." A US State Department spokesman stated the harsh sentence was done "for political purposes" and was actually a response to strengthened economic sanctions due to increased North Korean nuclear weapons testing.See also
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