21-year-old University of Virginia student and pastel-enthusiast Otto Warmbier has been on an extended vacation in North Korea for over two months. He came to the country as a tourist during winter break and has since become one of three North American prisoners. Not exactly the vacation he was looking for (although if you choose to vacation in North Korea, I’m not exactly sure what you were looking for).
When he was first detained at the Pyongyang airport, the North Korean government said it was for committing “a hostile act against the DPRK after entering it under the guise of tourist for the purpose of bringing down the foundation of its single-minded unity at the tacit connivance of the U.S. government and under its manipulation.”
Today we learned that the hostile act Warmbier committed was stealing a propaganda poster from his hotel. His punishment? Fifteen years doing hard labor in prison. For stealing a poster.
“North Korea’s sentencing of Otto Warmbier to 15 years hard labor for a college-style prank is outrageous and shocking,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, in a statement. “Pyongyang should recognize this student’s self-admitted mistake as a misdemeanor offense that it would be in most countries, release him on humanitarian grounds and send him home.”
Warmbier “confessed” to his crime in a statement on February 29. Previous detainees of North Korea have spoken out after their release and said that any confessions they made during their imprisonment were “made under duress” “carefully orchestrate[d]” by North Korean officials. Sorry, Kim Jon Un, I’m calling bullshit on this confession.
As crazy as this entire story might seem to those of us living in the land of the free and the home of the brave, poor Otto is living this nightmare day in and day out. You can watch his tear-filled confession below.
“I have been very impressed by the Korean government’s humanitarian treatment of severe criminals like myself, and of their very fair and square legal procedures in the DPR of Korea,” Warmbier says.
Since when is fifteen years doing hard labor in prison a “fair and square” punishment for stealing a freakin’ poster? Never. I don’t believe a word of that confession, but I do believe those tears at the end of the video. He’s sorry for whatever he did. He wants to come home.
North Korea and the U.S. aren’t exactly on friendly terms right now, so there’s no word on if or how the American government plans to help Otto get out of this mess, but I hope it’s soon..