North Korea Releases Jailed University of Virginia Student Otto Warmbier


North Korea has released jailed American Otto Warmbier, age 22, who served just over a year of his 15-year sentence. He allegedly took down a propaganda poster of the dead dictator Kim Jong Il on January 2, 2016, while Warmbier was in the country with a tour group. Otto Warmbier was charged with “hostile acts against the DPRK”.

Today, June 13, 2017, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that the US Department of State negotiated the release of Otto Warmbier.

On February 29, 2016, Warmbier was forced to confess to stealing the poster of North Korean propaganda to take back to the United States as a “trophy” for someone from his hometown church, who allegedly offered to pay him for it with the gift of a car worth $10,000.

Otto Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years hard labor.

On March 18, 2016, North Korea’s news agency released a video purporting to show the theft of the poster. An 18-second low-resolution video, shows a shadowy human figure, with the face hidden, removing the poster from the wall and placing it on the floor, leaning against the wall. The video showed the action twice, followed by a higher-resolution picture of the sign on the wall. The theft was alleged to have occurred from a staff-only floor in the Yanggakdo International Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea, where Warmbier was staying along with around 100 other Westerners and American citizens.

Foreigners detained or imprisoned are sometimes forced into coached confessions, communication blackouts and isolation designed to cause emotional breakdown. The United States has no diplomatic relations in North Korea.

Warmbier’s release leaves three U.S. citizens currently known to be held in North Korea: accounting professor Kim Sang Duk, businessman Kim Dong Chul and Kim Hak-Song, who worked at Pyongyang University.

Warmbier was a tourist with Young Pioneer Tours, an independent travel company founded in 2008 and based in Xi’an, China, which specializes in budget group and independent tours to North Korea starting as low as $500. Young Pioneer Tours has branched out to include tours to additional high risk destinations, such as Iran, Iraq, Eastern Europe and Russia (Eurasia), Armenia, Antarctica, Chernobyl, Cuba, Burma, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Somaliland, Tibet, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Xinjiang, and Yemen.

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