Otto Warmbier, the 22 year old American economics student who was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a propaganda banner in North Korea, has been released to the U.S. after being held for almost a year and half. Warmbier, who is in a coma, was taken to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center for urgent care.
The Warmbier family said it was only last week they learned their son has been in a coma since shortly after his trial in March 2016.
At President Trump’s direction, the Department of State secured the release of Otto Warmbier. Arirang News reported that this came after Joseph Yun, the U.S. State Department’s special envoy to Pyongyang, traveled to North Korea to demand his release on humanitarian grounds.
“North Korean officials say Warmbier contracted botulism sometime after his trial in March of last year… and lapsed into a coma after taking a sleeping pill. But the New York Times reported that a senior U.S. official said Washington obtained reports in recent weeks, indicating Warmbier had been beaten while in North Korean custody,” according to Arirang.
It is unclear whether former NBA star Dennis Rodman’s recent arrival in North Korea had any influence on Warmbier’s release, which happened on the same day. Rodman is on surprisingly friendly terms with North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un.
Freedom in North Korea is limited. The North Korean people face harsh punishment for such things as driving, watching television, or listening to music; and Christians in particular suffer persecution. According to Open Doors UK, North Korea remains the most dangerous place in the world to be a believer.
“The family that has ruled North Korea for three generations are worshipped like gods, and any suggestion that there is a higher authority than the nation’s leader, Kim Jong-un, is immediately crushed,” says Open Doors UK. “Tens of thousands of Christians are incarcerated in horrific labor camps…”
Three other US citizens are reportedly imprisoned in North Korea at this time.
“The U.S. has in the past accused North Korea of detaining its citizens to use them as pawns in negotiations over its nuclear weapons programme,” BBC News reported.