Last month I wrote about the case of U.S. college student Otto Frederick Warmbier. Warmbier was arrested at the airport earlier this year as he was leaving North Korea after a week long tourist visit. Weeks later he appeared at a staged, televised event in which he begged for mercy for his notorious crimes. What were his crimes? CNN reported at the time he was accused of trying, and failing, to steal a political banner from his hotel:
The official says Warmbier put on “quiet shoes” he brought from the United States, and just before 2 a.m. on January 1, 2016, he entered the staff-only second floor of the hotel intending to steal a sign or banner with a political slogan.
“The slogan was bigger than he thought. So he couldn’t take it away and turned it upside down and deserted (it) on the floor when he had pulled it from the hangers,” the official said.
Today the AP reports on Warmbier’s fate at the hands of the North Korean justice. For pulling a banner to the floor he is being sentenced to 15 years of hard labor:
Otto Warmbier, 21, a University of Virginia undergraduate, was convicted and sentenced in a one-hour trial in North Korea’s Supreme Court. He was charged with subversion under Article 60 of North Korea’s criminal code.
The court held that he had 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 regularly accuses Washington and Seoul of sending spies to overthrow its government to enable the U.S.-backed South Korean government to take control of the Korean Peninsula.
What North Korea really wants is a PR win against the United States. Tensions have been high since North Korea tested a nuclear weapon in January and followed that up with tests of ballistic missiles it claims will soon be able to carry a nuclear warhead. Even China, the renegade nation’s closest ally, has agreed to support U.N. sanctions against North Korea.
The AP notes that securing Warmbier’s release will probably require a visit from a high-ranking U.S. official:
In the past, North Korea has held out until senior U.S. officials or statesmen came to personally bail out detainees, all the way up to former President Bill Clinton, whose visit in 2009 secured the freedom of American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling.
The U.S. State Department said last month that it was working to secure his release.