Otto Warmbier, jailed US student, reportedly in coma after being freed by North Korea
Otto Warmbier, the college student arrested, tried and imprisoned in North Korea for more than a year for trying to swipe a souvenir from a hotel, has been released but is reportedly in a coma.
The 22-year-old Warmbier has served just over a year of his 15-year sentence — allegedly for taking down a sign of the late dictator Kim Jong Il while Warmbier was in the country with a tour group. As of Tuesday morning, Warmbier was on his way home to Cincinnati, although other details surrounding the dramatic events were not released.
“At the direction of the President, the Department of State has secured the release of Otto Warmbier from North Korea,” Tillerson said. “Mr. Warmbier is en route to the United States, where he will be reunited with his family. The Department of State continues to have discussions with the DPRK regarding three other U.S. citizens reported detained. Out of respect for the privacy of Mr. Warmbier and his family, we have no further comment on Mr. Warmbier.”
“Our son is coming home,” Fred Warmbier told The Washington Post Tuesday morning, after his son had been evacuated from North Korea. “At the moment, we’re just treating this like he’s been in an accident. We get to see our son Otto tonight.”
Warmbier’s exact condition was not known, but his parents said they were told that he had gotten botulism soon after his trial and been given a sleeping pill, from which he never woke up. State Department officials were unable to confirm this.
The U.S. has no diplomatic relations in North Korea. Foreigners who have been detained or imprisoned in the Hermit Kingdom often have a shared experience: confusion, coached confessions, communication blackouts and isolation.
Warmbier was detained on Jan. 2, 2016, at Pyongyang International Airport, while visiting the country as a tourist with Young Pioneer Tour. He was charged with stealing the sign from a staff-only floor in the Yanggakdo International Hotel in Pyongyang and committing “crimes against the state.” He was given a one-hour trial in March 2016, when the government presented fingerprints, CCTV footage and pictures of a political banner to make its case against the American student.
“I beg that you see how I am only human,” Warmbier said at his trial. “And how I have made the biggest mistake of my life.”
Despite his pleas, the college student was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. In a post-trial video released to the world, Warmbier, under obvious duress, praised his captors for his treatment and for handling of the case “fair and square.”
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’s release comes amid simmering tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, largely owing to Pyongyang’s continued testing of nuclear-capable missiles.