The University of Virginia student detained in North Korea was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in prison on Wednesday morning. Otto Warmbier, a 21-year old undergraduate from Cincinnati, was convicted of attempting to steal a propaganda banner at a hotel where he was staying while on vacation in Pyongyang. He reportedly said he wanted the sign at a restricted area “as a trophy” for a friend’s mother.
The highest court charged him with subversion during a one-hour trial.
Swedish Embassy diplomats in Pyongyang representing American interests were present at the trial but declined to give further details. “Sorry, we never comment on individual consular cases or any legal proceedings,” Swedish Ambassador Torkel Siernlof told ABC News.
Warmbier was visiting the communist state as part of a tourist group arranged by Young Pioneer Tours, a tour agency based in Xian, China. He was arrested at Pyongyang Sunan International Airport on the last day of a five-day tour on Jan. 2.
Three weeks later, North Korea announced that it was holding Warmbier for a “hostile act” against the state. At the end of February the official state television showed the student confessing on camera to a “very severe and preplanned” criminal act. In the video, he read from handwritten notes, saying he was “very foolish” and he tried to “harm the motivation and work ethic of the Korean people.”
Several U.S. citizens who were detained in North Korea and released have also "confessed" their crimes in front of reporters, at events carefully orchestrated by authorities in Pyongyang.