North Korea’s Supreme Court sentenced Otto Warmbier, a 21-year-old student at the University of Virginia, who had been detained in the country, to 15 years in prison with hard labor on March 16.
In a press conference held in Pyoengyang at the end of February, Mr. Warmbier said he visited North Korea as a tourist and on January 1 he attempted to take down a propaganda banner from the Yanggakdo International Hotel where he had been staying, and he was arrested on January 2. It turned out that he entered the restricted area of the hotel and tried to remove the banner from the wall, but he failed and ran away.
Mr. Warmbier claimed he tried to take the propaganda banner because his friend’s mother had asked him to bring it back.
The prosecution submitted the CCTV footage of Mr. Warmbier removing the banner as evidence during his trial and he confessed to his crime. It turned out that Warmbier’s defense attorney proposed to the court a sentence that is reduced from the prosecution’s request of a life sentence.
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said, “The accused confessed to the serious offense against the DPRK he had committed, pursuant to the U.S. government’s hostile policy toward it, in a bid to impair the unity of its people after entering it as a tourist.”
Lim Hyeon-soo, a Korean-Canadian pastor of the Light Korean Presbyterian Church, was also sentenced to a life term of hard labor after being accused of committing “state subversive plots and activities.”
The UN Security Council has recently imposed new sanctions against North Korea, and many countries including South Korea and the United States are also extending their sanctions against it. Under this severe pressure, North Korea handed down a heavy sentence to a U.S. student. Some observers suggest that this might be a kind of groundwork for talks with the United States through incitement as well as an expression of its will not to yield to outside pressure.