22-year-old Otto Warmbier was imprisoned in North Korea when he visited the country with a tour group. He alleged took down a sign depicting deceased dictator Kim Jong Il. For his crime, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. And now, Secretary of State Tillerson has announced Warmbier has been released.
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“Otto’s detainment and sentence was unnecessary and appalling, and North Korea should be universally condemned for its abhorrent behavior. Otto should have been released from the start,” said US Sen. Rob Portman told CNN. “Fred, Cindy, and the Warmbier family have been remarkably strong throughout this ordeal. Over the last 18 months, they have had to endure more than any family should have to bear.”
Warmbier, originally from Cincinnati, is a student at the University of Virginia. He was sentenced in March 2016 after his confession was televised to the world. “I beg that you see how I am only human,” Warmbier confessed. “And how I have made the biggest mistake of my life.”
Warmbier had been in North Korea for a five-day visit with a group called Young Pioneer Tours. The travel agency specializes in travel to North Korea. The U.S. State Department, though, continues to strongly discourage any travel to the country by U.S. citizens.
Warmbier had been staying at the Yanggakdo International Hotel. But he was arrested in Pyongyang’s airport as he waited to board a flight back to China.
After Warmbier’s release, there are three other Americans believed to be held in North Korea. Kim Dong Chul, a U.S. citizen who was born in South Korea, was sentenced to 10 years for espionage. Tony Kim was working at a Pyongyang university when he was arrested, and a professor, Kim Sang Duk is also being held.
News of the release of Warmbier comes on the heels of an announcement from Dennis Rodman that he will again travel to North Korea to attempt to “try to open a door.” It is unclear just what role Rodman’s form of citizen diplomacy may play in easing the tension, or securing the release of other prisoners. The release of Warmbier was not on Rodman’s stated agenda.