Who Is Otto Warmbier? North Korea Sentenced The American Student To A Harsh & Unfair Punishment
Washington has been keeping a particularly close eye on North Korea's supreme leader Kim Jong-un since the country carried out its fourth nuclear detonation test in recent years this January — not that the United States isn't normally wary of the East Asian country's activities. When the nation launched a long-range missile at the end of February, U.S. members of the United Nations decided it was time to request imposing tougher sanctions on North Korea. What American officials saw in return just days later was video of a detained American student apologizing to North Korean officials for an alleged crime and pleading for forgiveness. On Wednesday, North Korean media reported that a court sentenced the student, Otto Warmbier, to 15 years of hard labor and imprisonment. So who is Otto Warmbier?
Warmbier is a 21-year-old from Wyoming, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati, who was pursuing his undergraduate career at the University of Virginia. The student was in the process of completing a double major in commerce and economics, according to Heavy. Warmbier entered the country on a tourist visa via Beijing on December 29, taking part in a backpacking tour with the Young Pioneer Tours company. He was then detained in early January — North Korea just didn't make this information public until the United States requested those intensified sanctions — while attempting to depart for China from Pyongyang Sunan International Airport.
What Warmbier is being accused of by North Korean law enforcement has been described by Human Rights Watch's deputy Asia director, Phil Robertson, as a "college-style prank." In the confession video, which Warmbier may or may not have been forced into filming by North Korean officials, the student apologizes for attempting to steal a political banner from a staff-only area of the Yanggakdo International hotel, where he was staying. North Korea's highest court determined the incident an act of subversion and a state media broadcaster said Warmbier "aimed to destroy the country's unity."
Following Thursday's sentencing, a State Department spokesman called for Warmbier to be granted a pardon by the North Korean government and that he be released. And according to the statement made by Warmbier's tour company, the Department of State has been involved in efforts to return Warmbier home since soon after Warmbier's detainment.
How Warmbier feels about his home country's government isn't clear, though, while the student remains under the authority of the North Korean legal system. In the filmed confession, Warmbier states, "I beg that you see how I was used and manipulated. I was used by the United States administration like many before."