A 21-year-old American tourist has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor by the North Korean government, the New York Times reports.
Otto Frederick Warmbier, a student at the University of Virginia, was convicted Wednesday by the North Korean Supreme Court, according to the Times.
Warmbier was taken into custody in January and accused of subversive activities.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. He Was With a Tour Group in January When He Ripped Down a Propaganda Banner as a Souvenir
Otto Warmbier was taken into custody in January while trying to leave North Korea at the Pyongyang Sunan International Airport, NPR reports. His detention was first made public in February.
The North Korean government said Warmbier, who was on a trip with the Young Pioneer Tours company, tore down a propaganda poster at the Yanggakdo International Hotel, where he and about 100 other westerners were staying.
The government said the crime was act “of hostility against the state” and accused him of being affiliated with spies.
“This should be viewed in similar context of previous cases of Americans being sentenced in (North Korea),” Young Pioneer Tours said in a statement “We are continuing to work closely with relevant authorities to ensure a speedy and satisfactory outcome for Mr. Warmbier.”
2. He ‘Confessed’ to His Crimes During a Press Conference in February, Saying He Made the ‘Biggest Mistake of His Life’
Warmbier was paraded in front of the media by the North Korean government on February 29 and “confessed” to the crime.
“I never, never should have allowed myself to be lured by the United States administration to commit a crime in this country, I wish that the United States administration never manipulate people like myself in the future to commit crimes against foreign countries. I entirely beg you, the people and government of the DPRK, for your forgiveness. Please! I made the worst mistake of my life,” he said.
You can watch the full press conference below or by clicking here:
He said during his statement that he took the North Korean propaganda poster from the staff-only section of the hotel to bring back to the United States as a “trophy” in return for a $10,000 reward. He said if he was detained, $200,000 would be given to his family.
3. The State Department Has Called for Warmbier to Receive a Pardon & Be Released
After his sentence, the State Department called for him to be given a pardon and released.
“Now that Mr. Warmbier has gone through the criminal process, we would urge (North Korean officials) to grant him a special pardon and release him,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.
You can watch the State Department’s statement below or by clicking here:
The harsh sentence comes as tensions are high between the United States and North Korea. The U.S. and its allies have called for stronger United Nations sanctions against North Korea for its recent tests of a long-range rocket and a device it claimed to be a hydrogen bomb, the New York Times reports.
The State Department has been working with Swedish diplomats in North Korea, who have had contact with Warmbier and were at his sentencing.
4. He Is From Ohio & Was the Salutatorian of His Graduating Class
Warmbier is from Wyoming, Ohio, near Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports.
He graduated in 2013 and was the salutatorian of his class, the newspaper reports. He was described as a “great kid,” a “leader” and an outstanding student by friends, teachers and coaches.
“He is a great kid, really smart,” his soccer coach, Steve Thomas told the newspaper. “He was an outstanding player and student, and a good leader on and off the field.”
Ohio Governor and Republican presidential candidate John Kasich called for Warmbier to be allowed to come home.
“North Korea should…let him return to his family here in Ohio. His detention was completely unjustified and the sentence North Korea imposed on him is an affront to concepts of justice,” Kasich said. “Continuing to hold him only further alienates North Korea from the international community. I urge the Obama administration to redouble its efforts to secure his release and ask all Ohioans to continue to lift up Otto and his family in prayer in support of his swift, safe return.”
5. He Is a Junior at the University of Virginia Studying Commerce & Economics
Warmbier is a junior at the University of Virginia, where he is pursuing a double major in commerce and economics. He has made the Dean’s List while studying at Virginia.
According to university’s student newspaper, The Cavalier Daily, Warmbier is a member of the Theta Chi Fraternity.
“The University is aware of the recent media reports regarding Otto Warmbier and remains in touch with his family,” spokesman Anthony de Bruyn told The Cavalier Daily.