On January 2, 2016, Otto Frederick Warmbier, a University of Virginia student, was arrested as he was about to board his plane. He was sentenced for crimes against the state, a North Korean official told CNN.
In an emotional press conference last month, the 21-year-old student admitted to attempting to steal a banner with a political slogan from his hotel in the North Korean capital. It is not known whether Warmbier made the admission under duress.
Warmbier had traveled to Pyongyang on a trip organized by Young Pioneer Tours, a China-based travel company. State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters Wednesday that the punishment doesn’t fit the alleged crime.
“Now that Mr. Warmbier has gone through this criminal process, we would urge the DPRK to pardon him and to grant him special amnesty and immediate release on humanitarian grounds,” Toner said, referring to North Korea by its official acronym.
Appearing to read from a statement, he said: “I committed the crime of taking down a political slogan from the staff holding area of the Yanggakdo International Hotel.”
“I never, never should have allowed myself to be lured by the United States administration to commit a crime in this country,” he said tearfully as he begged for forgiveness.
Warmbier tearfully confesses to “hostile acts” last month.
“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!”
The North Korean government alleges Warmbier was encouraged to commit the “hostile act” by a purported member of an Ohio church, a secretive university organization and even the CIA.
The tour company he traveled with said on its website it is aware of his sentencing and that it should “be viewed in similar context of previous cases of Americans being sentenced” in North Korea.
The U.S. State Department spokesman has called for the student’s release.