US College Student Otto Warmbier Dies after ‘Torturous Mistreatment’ by North Korea

Otto Warmbier during his trial in North Korea in March 2016 during which he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a propaganda poster from a hotel. Photo: Free Otto Warmbier Facebook group

  • 22-year-old Otto Warmbier, a US college student from Cincinnati, Ohio, who spent 17 months in captivity in North Korea, has died as a result of his mistreatment by the communist regime.
  • Warmbier has passed away days after he was released by North Korea “on humanitarian grounds”.
  • He was brought back to the US in a state of “unresponsively wakefulness” having suffered extensive brain damage in North Korean captivity.
  • His family has blamed his death on the “awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans.”
  • US President Trump has condemned the brutality of the North Korean regime following Warmbier’s passing.
  • Warmbier’s death is expected to exacerbate further the tense relations between Kim Jong-un’s regime and the United States.

Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old University of Virginia student, who was recently repatriated in a so called vegetative state by the regime of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, has passed away, Warmbier’s family has announced.

Last year, Otto Warmbier, then a 21-year-old University of Virginia student from suburban Cincinnati, was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in prison after he confessed to trying to steal a propaganda banner from a hotel.

Warmbier was released by the North Korean regime “on humanitarian grounds” on June 13, 2017, in a condition of “unresponsive wakefulness”, also known as persistent vegetative state.

He is found to have suffered significant brain damage during his imprisonment, and even though the Kim Jong-un regime claimed he fell into a coma after contracting botulism and taking a sleeping pill in March 2016, US doctors have found no evidence of the illness.

Before his release, Otto Warmbier was one of the total of four Americans detained by North Korea, who included two recently arrested Korean-American university professors.

The travel company that took Warmbier to North Korea, Young Pioneer Tours, has decided to stop taking Americans to the communist dictatorship because “the risk is too high”.

Since 2009, over 10 US citizens have been detained in North Korea on charges of anti-state acts and other unspecified crimes.

The widespread view has been that Pyongyang uses the detentions of Americans as bargaining chips in its negotiations with Washington.

In February 2017, the North Korean regime committed the murder of its leader Kim Jong-un’s estranged half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, with a banned chemical weapon, the VX nerve agent, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, according to Malaysia’s auhtorities.

In the latest of its constant ballistic missile provocations, in early June, North Korea fired several anti-ship cruise missiles.

There have been reports that North Korea has been bracing for a preemptive US missile strike similar to the missile strike on the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in response to the April 4 attack with chemical weapons.

Otto Warmbier during his trial in North Korea in March 2016 during which he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a propaganda poster from a hotel. Photo: TV grab from CNN

‘Torturous Mistreatment’

22-year-old US college student Otto Warmbier passed away just days after he was released by the North Korean regime in a state of unresponsive wakefulness, his family announced, blaming his untimely death on the “awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans.”

“It is our sad duty to report that our son, Otto Warmbier, has completed his journey home. Surrounded by his loving family, Otto died today at 2.20pm,” Fred and Cindy Warmbier wrote in a statement on Monday.

“Unfortunately, the awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans ensured that no other outcome was possible beyond the sad one we experienced today,” the family stated.

“When Otto returned to Cincinnati late on June 13, he was unable to speak, unable to see and unable to react to verbal commands. He looked very uncomfortable – almost anguished,“ they explained.

“Although we would never hear his voice again, within a day the countenance of his face changed – he was at peace. He was home, and we believe he could sense that,” the statement said.

“It would be easy at a moment like this to focus on all that we lost – future time that won’t be spent with a warm, engaging, brilliant young man whose curiosity and enthusiasm for life knew no bounds. But we choose to focus on the time we were given to be with this remarkable person,” the family added.

US doctors confirmed that Otto Warmbier had severe brain damage during his time in captivity in North Korea.

Following Warmbier’s release last week, US President Donald Trump said a “truly terrible thing” had happened to the young American while he was in custody in North Korea.

A North Korean soldier watches as visitors walk to attend a flower exhibition as part of celebrations to mark the ‘Day of the Sun’ commemorating the 105th birth anniversary of late supreme leader Kim Il-sung in Pyongyang, North Korea, 16 April 2017. Photo: How Hwee Young/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

‘The Brutality of the North Korean Regime’

Warmbier’s death is expected to further exacerbate the already tense relations between the US and the North Korean regime, South Korean news agency Yonhap commented.

“Otto’s fate deepens my administration’s determination to prevent such tragedies from befalling innocent people at the hands of regimes that do not respect the rule of law or basic human decency,” US President Trump said after Warmbier‘s passing.

“The United States once again condemns the brutality of the North Korean regime as we mourn its latest victim,” Trump added.

“There is nothing more tragic for a parent than to lose a child in the prime of life,” he added.

Earlier on Monday, US Acting Assistant Secretary of State Susan Thornton was asked during a briefing on the upcoming high-level security talks with China if the US was considering any retaliatory action against North Korea over Warmbier’s death.

“We’re certainly aware that there are three other American citizens still being held by the North Korean regime, and we very much hope that they can come home soon,” she said in a sense avoiding a direct answer.

Human Rights Watch said Warmbier’s death “after being abused in North Korean custody” proved the regime was willing to “brutalize and kill to maintain their hold on power.”

The three other detainees are all of them Korean-Americans. Two of them, Kim Hak-song and Kim Sang-dok, were detained earlier this year, while the third, Kim Dong-chul, was arrested in October 2015 and sentenced to 10 years of hard labor on charges of espionage and subversion.

Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American missionary, served two years of detention in the North before being released in November 2014 when then-U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper made a secret trip to Pyongyang to win his release and that of another US detainee.

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