People in New York react to the sentencing of a U.S. student to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea.
On March 15, North Korea’s highest court sentenced an American tourist to 15 years in prison with hard labor for subversion.
Otto Warmbier, 21, was sentenced for stealing a propaganda banner bearing the name of Kim Jong-il—the state’s former leader—from the wall of his hotel.
Specifically, the student 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.”
A few days after his sentencing, North Korea released a surveillance video it says shows the University of Virginia student committing the crime. In a cramped area of the Yanggakdo International Hotel in Pyongyang, a figure is seen walking towards the wall before removing the rectangular poster.
Warmbier went to North Korea with a tour agency. He was stopped at the end of the five-day group tour at the airport and immediately got taken away, according to the tour operator that arranged the trip.
In a tearful confession in February, Warmbier told press assembled in Pyongyang that his hometown church in Wyoming, Ohio—Friendship United Methodist Church—requested he steal the banner.
The church member told Warmbier the banner would be hung on its wall as a trophy, but if things took an unexpected turn—such as him getting detained and not returning—$200,000 would be paid to his mother in the form of a charitable donation, Warmbier said.
Warmbier said he accepted the money offer because his family is “suffering from very severe financial difficulties.”
The White House said Warmbier’s sentence is “unduly harsh” and urged “immediate release” from jail on humanitarian grounds.
Since the incident, the State Department has warned Americans against traveling to North Korea—even if, in the past, Americans have returned home without incident.