North Korea Sentences Otto Warmbier, U.S. Student, to 15 Years’ Labor


Otto F. Warmbier, an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, apologizing at a news conference last month after being accused of trying to take a political banner from a hotel in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.

Kyodo, via Reuters

SEOUL, South Korea — An American student who tearfully apologized for trying to steal a political propaganda poster in his hotel in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for subversion on Wednesday, news agencies reported.

The student, Otto F. Warmbier, 21, an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, was convicted after a one-hour trial Wednesday morning at the country’s Supreme Court, according to The Associated Press, which has a bureau in Pyongyang. The Japanese news agency Kyodo and the Chinese state-run Xinhua agency also covered the conviction and sentencing. There was no immediate report from North Korea’s state-run news media.

The sentence is the latest penalty that North Korea has meted out to a small number of American tourists, missionaries and journalists in recent years for what have been deemed antistate crimes, including accusations of illegal entry and leaving a Bible behind in a hotel.

Mr. Warmbier was detained on Jan. 2 as he was about to board a plane to leave North Korea. In late February, he offered a tearful apology at a government-arranged news conference in Pyongyang, where he said he had tried to take the political poster as a trophy for a member of a church in the United States. It was impossible to determine whether Mr. Warmbier had been coerced into making the statements.

The reports on Wednesday came less than a day after a longtime American diplomat, Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico, met with two North Korean officials in New York to urge Mr. Warmbier’s release on humanitarian grounds.

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