US Tourist Sentenced to 15 Years Hard Labor in North Korea Jail

PHOTO: American student Otto Warmbier, center, is escorted at the Supreme Court in Pyongyang, North Korea, March 16, 2016.PlayJon Chol Jin/AP Photo
WATCH North Korea Sentences American Tourist to 15 Years in Prison

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, Ohio, was convicted of allegedly attempting to steal a propaganda banner at a hotel he was staying at while on vacation in Pyongyang. He reportedly 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.

PHOTO: US student Otto Frederick Warmbier is shown in court, March 16, 2016, at the Supreme Court in Pyongyang, North Korea. KCNA/AFP/Getty Images
US student Otto Frederick Warmbier is shown in court, March 16, 2016, at the Supreme Court in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Three weeks later, North Korea had 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 pre-planned” 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 had been detained in North Korea and released in the past have also "confessed" their crimes in front of media reporters, an event carefully orchestrated by the state authorities in Pyongyang.