Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced on Tuesday morning that North Korea has released 22-year-old American student Otto Warmbier, who was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in March 2016.
Unfortunately, there are reports Warmbier lapsed into a coma for unknown reasons shortly after his last public appearance over a year ago.
“At the direction of the President, the Department of State has secured the release of Otto Warmbier from North Korea. Mr. Warmbier is en route to the United States, where he will be reunited with his family. The Department of State continues to have discussions with the DPRK regarding three other U.S. citizens reported detained,” said Secretary Tillerson in a statement.
“Out of respect for the privacy of Mr. Warmbier and his family, we have no further comment on Mr. Warmbier,” Tillerson added.
“I committed the crime of taking down a political slogan from the staff holding area of the Yanggakdo International Hotel,” Warmbier said his televised confession. Speaking under duress, he went on to accuse the American government of “luring” and “manipulating” him into committing crimes against the Pyongyang regime. The North Korean government also blamed his church, secret organizations at the University of Virginia, and the CIA for leading him astray.
“I wish that the United States administration never manipulated people like myself in the future to commit crimes against foreign countries. I entirely beg you, the people and government of the DPRK, for your forgiveness. Please! I made the worst mistake of my life!” he pleaded, to no avail.
He was jailed for “hostile acts” against the North Korean state, despite appeals from the Obama administration, human rights groups, and Warmbier’s family.
His family told the Washington Post in April they had not heard from him in 16 months. “We don’t know if Otto still exists,” his father Fred said.
Fred Warmbier criticized the Obama administration for not doing enough to secure his son’s release.
“With the last administration, Otto seemed to be an unwanted distraction, and they urged us to keep quiet. Now the new administration is there, so we’ve decided to start speaking out,” he said in April.
“We know that the administration has been challenged by bigger issues than Otto, but we don’t understand why diplomacy on a different track to get Otto and the other detainees out can’t be going on at the same time,” Warmbier’s mother Cindy added.
Warmbier journeyed to North Korea with a group of 19 other foreigners in a trip arranged by an “extreme tourism” company called Young Pioneer Tours. Customers are told they will enjoy tours of “destinations your mother would rather you stayed away from.”
Time Magazine described the junket in an April article as a combination of sarcastically-tinged conventional tourism in an unconventional location, such as snapping photos beneath titanic statues of the Kim dictators, and binge drinking in the hotel room.
The latter may have played some role in Warmbier’s decision to allegedly steal propaganda signs praising the Kim regime from the staff-only area of the hotel. His offense was supposedly captured on a rather indistinct bit of surveillance video. He was arrested at the Pyongyang airport as he was preparing to board his flight home. There was wide speculation he was nabbed primarily because North Korea wanted another American hostage.
The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that Warmbier is presently in a coma, and was medically evacuated from the country. He evidently lapsed into a coma shortly after his last public appearance over a year ago.
“Our son is coming home. At the moment, we’re just treating this like he’s been in an accident. We get to see our son Otto tonight,” Fred Warmbier told the Post.
Update: North Korean officials claim Otto contracted botulism after his trial in North Korea, took a sleeping pill, and lapsed into the coma from which he has yet to awaken. His condition was not made known to Amerian officials until an unexpected communique on June 5.
“He is being medivacked to the US. The brutalization and terrorism the North Koreans have put upon Otto and the Warmbier family have ended. Thank God,” the family stated.
The family hails from the suburbs of Cincinnati. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) blasted North Korea for its behavior and asked Americans to keep the Warmbiers in their prayers while respecting their privacy.
“Otto’s detainment and sentence was unnecessary and appalling, and North Korea should be universally condemned for its abhorrent behavior,” said Portman. “Otto should have been released fromt he start. For North Korea to imprison Otto with no notification or consular access for more than a year is the utmost example of its complete failure to recognize fundamental human rights and dignity.”