On Friday, North Korea announced the arrest of University of Virginia student Otto Frederick Warmbier, 21, for “perpetrating a hostile act” against the Communist state, with the “tacit connivance of the U.S. government and under its manipulation.”
Warmbier was actually taken prisoner on January 2 at the Pyongyang airport, just before his return flight to China after a five-day tourist swing through North Korea. Reuters notes this was four days before North Korea’s illegal nuclear test, which it portrayed as an H-bomb detonation, and which has drawn threats of renewed sanctions.
Yes, there are tourists in North Korea–about 6,000 Westerners annually, according to Reuters. Warmbier’s visit was arranged by Young Pioneer Tours, a China-based company that boasts of providing “budget tours to destinations your mother would rather you stayed away from.” The company advertises its “fun way of doing things” and “excellent relations” with North Korea.
The company website declares:
So whether you’re looking to compete in the Pyongyang Marathon, experience the spectacular sights of Mt Paektu, ski at the world class Masikryong Ski resort, explore the extreme North East of the country, or visit Rason city–North Korea’s Special Economic Zone, we have itineraries to suit all travelers.
Young Pioneer Tours also offers packages for other edgy, fun destinations such as Iran, Cuba, China, Antarctica, Turkmenistan, Iraq, Southeast Asia, and “former Soviet countries.” According to Reuters, the adventurous Warmbier has previously visited Cuba, Ireland, and Israel. Whether his Cuba trip was arranged by Young Pioneer Tours was not addressed.
Fox News notes that North Korea is hungry for tourist cash to prop up its walking-dead economy, but “the U.S. State Department has warned against travel to the North, however, and visitors, especially those from America, who break the country’s sometimes murky rules risk detention, arrest and possible jail sentences, although most have eventually been released.”
Other current North Korean prisoners include Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim, sentenced to life in prison for “subversion,” and American Kim Dong Chul, whose captors recently permitted him to speak with CNN and who pleaded to the American and South Korean governments for rescue.
Fox News notes the North Koreans have a habit of grabbing Americans on trumped-up charges and holding them until high-ranking U.S. officials agree to visit, squeezing a little “diplomatic credibility” out of each charade. They are also fond of forcing prisoners to make “confessions” flattering to the Communist state’s paranoid fantasies, which is a war crime.
A spokesman for Young Pioneer Tours said the company was in contact with the Warmbier family, the U.S. State Department, and the Embassy of Sweden in Pyongyang, which handles American diplomatic affairs with the rogue Communist nation.