An American college student on a five-day New Year’s tour of North Korea was detained at the airport on January 2 and charged with committing a “hostile act” against the state.
Otto Frederick Warmbier, 21, of the University of Virginia, is believed to be the second American currently being held hostage by North Korea. A Korean-American appeared on state television last month and claimed he was being held as well.
KCNA said Warmbier had entered the country with an “aim to destroy the country’s unity”. It did not elaborate.
According to his social media profiles, Warmbier is from Cincinnati and is an Echols Scholar, awarded to the top 7 percent of incoming first-year students at the University of Virginia, where he majors in economics with a minor in global sustainability.
Warmbier has also visited Cuba, Ireland and Israel, according to his Facebook profile.
Warmbier was detained four days before North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test in violation of UN sanctions, which drew condemnation from its neighbors and the United States.
A friend and former high-school classmate of Warmbier, who wished to remain anonymous, told Reuters: “Otto is a wonderful, warm person who should never have to go through anything like this. … The idea that any of this happened is crazy.”
Calls to the Warmbier home in Cincinnati, Ohio, were not immediately answered on Friday and nobody answered when a Reuters reporter knocked on the door of the house.
South Korea warned that the United States and its allies were working on further sanctions to inflict “bone-numbing pain” on North Korea after its latest nuclear test, and urged China to do its part to rein in its neighbor.
North Korea has a long history of detaining foreigners, and the U.S. and Canadian governments advise against travel there.
Pyongyang has in the past used detained U.S. citizens to extract high-profile visits from the United States, with which it has no formal diplomatic relations.
While the vast majority of tourists to North Korea are from China, roughly 6,000 westerners visit the country annually. Most are adventure-seekers curious about life behind the last sliver of the iron curtain, and ignore critics who say their dollars prop up a repressive regime.
Warmbier was on Young Pioneer’s “New Year’s Party Tour,” which, according to the itinerary on the company’s website, was to include watching fireworks in Kim Il Sung Square in the heart of Pyongyang, and an optional helicopter ride.
“Adventure seeker,” indeed. The young man is going to have all the adventure he can handle being held by the North Koreans.
If the NoKos hold true to form, they will keep Mr. Warmbier locked up for several months before putting him on trial. After his conviction, they will begin the extortion process, eventually wringing food and other concessions from the U.S. for their impoverished nightmare of a country.
It is incomprehensible to me that civilized countries put up with this from the barbaric countries of the world. Of course, idiots like Warmbier have no business visiting Iran, North Korea and other nations that seize Americans with impunity and hold them until the U.S. pays ransom. The State Department tries to warn people against giving these governments easy targets, but some people just don’t listen.
Still, you don’t wish for any American to have to go through what will happen to this young man in the brutal conditions of a North Korean prison.