US urges immediate release of student sentenced to hard labor in North Korea
The sentencing of 21-year-old US student Otto Warmbier to 15 years’ hard labour in North Korea was “unduly harsh”, the US state department has said, as it called for his immediate release and experts denounced the country’s legal process.
Spokesman Mark Toner discouraged all US citizens from traveling to North Korea, a longstanding recommendation of the agency, citing the risk of “arrest and long-term detention for actions that would not be cause for arrest in the United States or other countries”.
The University of Virginia student’s conviction on Wednesday was conducted before a “kangaroo court”, an expert has said.
Katharine Moon from the Brookings Institute said: “There’s no due process at all and everybody is handpicked by they regime ... They are not independent assessors of people’s guilt or innocence.”
Warmbier, who was visiting the isolated communist nation with a backpacking tour group, was detained on 2 January in Pyongyang for allegedly stealing a propaganda sign from a staff-only area of the hotel he was staying. State media said Warmbier’s crime was committed with “the tacit connivance of the US government and under its manipulation”.
The court decided that Warbier had committed his crime “pursuant to the US government’s hostile policy toward [North Korea] in a bid to impair the unity of its people after entering it as a tourist”. Pyongyang regularly accuses the US of sending operatives to North Korea for the purpose of overthrowing the hostile regime.
Toner said a representative from the Swedish embassy in North Korea was able to confirm Warmbier was in good health and that members of the Swedish delegation were able to visit him in prison and were also present at his sentencing.