Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says that North Korea has released Otto Warmbier. Warmbier, who was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in a North Korean labor camp for “hostile acts against the DPRK”, was released just over a year into his sentence.
According to Tillerson, Warmbier is on his way home to be reunited with his family. In a statement, Tillerson said that the State Department secured Warmbier’s release at the direction of President Donald Trump and that they are still discussing the release of three other detained Americans with North Korea.
Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student from a suburb outside of Cincinnati who was sentenced in March 2016 in a televised public confession to trying to steal a propaganda banner.
The three Americans still being detained in North Korea are accounting professor Kim Sang Duk, businessman Kim Dong Chul and Kim Hak-Song, who worked at Pyongyang University.
Before his trial, Warmbier had said he tried to steal a propaganda banner as a trophy for an acquaintance who wanted to hang it in her church. That would be grounds in North Korea for a subversion charge. He identified the church as Friendship United Methodist Church. Meshach Kanyion, pastor of the church in Wyoming, declined to comment Wednesday.
North Korea announced Warmbier’s arrest in late January 2016, saying he committed an anti-state crime with “the tacit connivance of the U.S. government and under its manipulation.” Warmbier had been staying at the Yanggakdo International Hotel. It is common for sections of tourist hotels to be reserved for North Korean staff and off-limits to foreigners.
In a tearful statement made before his trial, Warmbier told a gathering of reporters in Pyongyang he was offered a used car worth $10,000 if he could get a propaganda banner and was also told that if he was detained and didn’t return, $200,000 would be paid to his mother in the form of a charitable donation.
Warmbier said he accepted the offer because his family was “suffering from very severe financial difficulties.”
Otto Warmbier Coma
According to multiple sources, Warmbier’s parents say their son is in a coma. He was medically evacuated to an American military facility in Sapporo, Japan, before arriving home in Cincinnati.
The Warmbier family says that they were told my North Korean officials, through contact with American envoys, that Otto had become ill from botulism after his March trial and slipped into a coma after taking a sleeping pill. Otto’s father, Fred Warmbier, told the Washington Post that they were told Otto was in a coma the entire time.
“Our son is coming home. At the moment, we’re just treating this like he’s been in an accident. We get to see our son Otto tonight,” Fred Warmbier said.
Botulism is a food poisoning caused by a bacterium (botulinum) growing on improperly sterilized canned meats and other preserved foods.
The State Department had no further comment on Warmbier’s release.