The North Korean government just sentenced a 21-year-old American student to 15 years of hard labor for crimes against the state.
Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia undergraduate, was sentenced in a one-hour trial in North Korea’s Supreme Court for stealing a banner with a political slogan from his hotel in Pyongyang. He was charged with subversion under Article 60 of North Korea’s criminal code under which he committed a crime “pursuant to the U.S. government's hostile policy toward (the North), in a bid to impair the unity of its people after entering it as a tourist.”
North Korea alleged Warmbier was encouraged to commit the “hostile act” by a member of an Ohio church, the CIA and even a secret university.
"I wish that the United States administration never manipulate people like myself in the future to commit crimes against foreign countries," said Warmbier in an emotional press conference last month. “I entirely beg you, the people and government of the DPRK, for your forgiveness. Please! I made the worst mistake of my life!"
North Korea routinely accuses Washington and Seoul of sending secret agents to overthrow its government so that the South Korean government could take control of the Korean Peninsula.
Tensions are particularly high ever since North Korea’s recent rocket launch and the recent joint-military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea that North Korea views as a prelude to invasion.
The sentencing of Warmbier is the latest penalty that North Korea has meted out to American tourists in recent years for anti-state crimes like illegal entry and leaving a Bible behind in a hotel. However, unlike those foreigners who have short and severe punishments, Warmbier's punishment will take a huge chunk out of his youth.
The tour company that the Virginia student traveled with said on its website that it is “fully aware of the recent sentencing of Otto Warmbier that was announced by KCNA on Wednesday the 16th March 2016. This should be viewed in similar context of previous cases of Americans being sentenced in the DPRK.”
Two American detainees, Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller, who were sentenced to six and 15 years of hard labor, respectively, were able to get out of jail in one and two years. So maybe there is hope for Warmbier yet.
Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico, has already met with two North Korean officials to plead Warmbier’s release on humanitarian grounds.
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