North Korea arrested 21-year-old Otto Warmbier on Jan. 2 for unclear reasons. Back then, U.S. government officials said they were looking into the matter and refrained from saying anything concrete.
However, now that the University of Virginia student has confessed to his “hostile acts” in Pyongyang, things seem to have picked up a little pace.
In his first public appearance since his arrest, Warmbier, on Monday, tearfully apologized for attempting to steal a political banner from a staff-only section of the hotel where he had been staying. He begged DPRK for forgiveness and even asked the U.S. not to “manipulate” people.
Considering the fact he was reading his confession from a piece of paper and appeared to get more upset with each passing minute, it’s quite possible he was coerced or forced into the admission. It is also quite possible that he is being used as a political pawn for propaganda purposes.
“As a general practice, North Korea arrests and imprisons people for actions that would not give rise to arrests, let alone imprisonment, in the United States, and there’s little doubt that North Korea uses detention as a tool for propaganda purposes,” U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
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Meanwhile, the White House said in a statement Monday that officials are working closely with Swedish intermediaries, who are the go-between for the U.S. and North Korea, to find out more about Warmbier’s imprisonment.
“There’s no greater priority for the administration than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad,” White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said. “Obviously we’re working through the Swedes to learn as much as we can about this individual, and about the circumstances of his detention, and we’re interested in ensuring the safety and welfare of U.S. citizens around the world.”
North Korea accuses Warmbier of surfing the Internet to study different DPRK political slogans and plotting to steal one by folding it up on a thin rectangular metal sheet, according to CNN. Bizarrely, they also allege he was encouraged to commit the “hostile act” by a purported member of an Ohio church, a secretive university organization and the CIA.