Otto Frederick Warmbier, a University of Virginia student, was recently arrested in North Korea for what is being called a “hostile act.”
China-based tourism agency Young Pioneer Tours confirmed that Warmbier was one of their clients in a statement made earlier this morning on their website.
We can confirm that the reports that one of our clients is being detained in Pyongyang are true. Their family have been informed and we are in contact with the Swedish Embassy, (who act as the protecting interest for U.S citizens), who are working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to address the case. We are also assisting the U.S Department of State closely with regards to the situation. In the meantime we would appreciate Otto’s and his family’s privacy being respected and we hope his release can be secured as soon as possible.
Warmbier was arrested four days before North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test, which violated UN sanctions and drew disapproval from the U.S. and surrounding countries.
Here’s everything you need to know.
Update–3/16/2016: Otto Warmbier has been sentenced to 15 years in North Korean prison. Read below for more.
What Happened to Otto Warmbier?
The 21-year-old Theta Chi fraternity brother was in North Korea for a short, five-day New Year trip and was detained at Pyongyang airport on Jan. 2 before boarding a flight back to China. He was part of Young Pioneer’s “New Year’s Party Tour”, which, according to the itinerary on the company’s website, included watching fireworks in Kim Il Sung Square. The area is in the heart of Pyongyang. A helicopter ride was also offered.
According to a man on the same flight, Warmbier and his travel group were out until 5am that morning getting drunk on Vodka. From Independent:
According to Darragh [an Irish national who was on the same flight], Warmbier – a 21-year-old Virginia student – was yelled at by armed officials at Pyongyang airport terminal before being dragged away:
“We were told there were only 100 tourists in the country at the time and there were 100 people on my flight,” he said. “When we were leaving one of the other tour group’s [the Young Pioneers] tour leader said ‘we’re missing Otto’.
“The tour operator eventually got through to Otto on the phone. He said to her that he didn’t want to leave and had a headache and that he wanted to go to hospital. She preferred him to get on the plane and go to a hospital in China….He hung up the phone and that was the last they heard of him. There was a frantic search when they landed in China.
“There was another person sitting next to me on the plane. This person said he [Otto] had said something to the guard. At the gate for the plane there was a woman collecting tickets and an armed soldier. According to the person next to me he [Otto] said something to the soldier and then the soldier started yelling at him and dragged him off.
His family has already been informed as well as the university, and the State department is aware of “media reports” surrounding the boy’s arrest. However, spokesman Mark Toner said that he had no other details to share due to privacy considerations.
The arrest was also announced on a North Korean news station.
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KCNA announced that “Warmbier was under investigation for ‘perpetrating a hostile act against the DPRK after entering it under the guise of tourist for the purpose of bringing down the foundation of its single-minded unity at the tacit connivance of the U.S. government and under its manipulation.”
Gareth Johnson of Young Pioneer Tours – the program responsible for Warmbier’s initaly trip – told Reuters that they’re doing everything they can to help. “We are in touch with Otto’s family, the U.S. State Department and the Embassy of Sweden in Pyongyang and doing all we can to secure his release.”
This is not the first time in the past year that North Korea has arrested a student. In October the DPRK released NYU student Joo Won-Moon after claims they discovered him crossing into the country from China.
Update–3/1/2016: The University of Virginia student appeared at a press conference Monday morning to apologize and seek forgiveness from North Korea and its government officials. Profusely crying and clearly in distress, Warmbier stood up to pray and succumbed to allegations that he was in North Korea working as a spy for the U.S. government.
“I understand the severity of my crime, and I have no idea what sort of penalty I may face, but I am begging to the Korean people and government for my forgiveness,” Warmbier said, fairly frantically. “And I am praying to the heavens so that I may be returned home to my family.”
See the full press conference below:
According to The Daily Caller, Warmbier’s parents have since expressed relief to see their son alive.
“We had not heard from him during these many weeks, so you can imagine how deeply worried we were and what a traumatic experience this has been for us,” Fred and Cindy Warmbier said in a statement, according to CNN. “He seems to be in good health, although we won’t know for sure about his condition until we have a chance to speak with him.”
It remains unclear as to whether or not Warmbier spoke on his own behalf, or if he was forced to by the North Korean government.
Cuz of idiots like that who think they can do stuff like that and get away with it. AN apology isn't enough! #ottowarmbier embarrassing 😒
— Lidia C. (@MarvelousAish) February 29, 2016
As ppl of The USA, we need to call our Senators, Representatives, and The 2016 Presidential hopefuls, to get Ohio Student, #OttoWarmbier Hm!
— Nothing Trump! (@drummindj_j) February 29, 2016
— AprilDawn (@takintime) February 29, 2016
Update–3/16/2016: The highest court of North Korea has sentenced Otto Warmbier to 15 years of hard labor. He was charged with subversion under Article 60 of DPRK’s criminal code. The court held that he had committed a crime “pursuant to the U.S. government’s hostile policy toward (the North), in a bid to impair the unity of its people after entering it as a tourist.”
Who Is Otto Frederick Warmbier?
Otto is a first and foremost an American, an Ohio native, who has been illegally arrested and detained by an evil dictatorship that relies on childish acts such as these to get the world’s attention. But you probably already knew that.
Otto graduated from from a Wyoming High School, which is actually a high school in Cincinnati, OH. He is now currently studying commerce at the University of Virginia and is on the Dean’s List. Otto’s social media accounts show that he’s interested in finance, rap, and travel.
He is a member of the Theta Chi fraternity, who have had a tough year so far. Seven months ago, a fourth-year student and their President, Quentin Alcorn, died.
American Outrage To Frederick’s Arrest
Understandably, most Americans are upset about Frederick’s arrest.
— Eugene Resnick (@EugeneResnick) January 22, 2016
Tourism to North Korea may open a small window into NKs realizing Americans aren't the devil but negative outweighs the positive.
— Benjamin R. Young, PhD (@DubstepInDPRK) January 22, 2016
UVa student Otto Warmbier detained in North Korea after New Year's trip to the country. This is him before the trip. pic.twitter.com/znDAZbw66s
— Nora Neus (@noraneus) January 22, 2016
Some are blaming Obama’s deal with Iran as the reason for Otto’s arrest.
His friends have also offered words of support.
Otto Warmbier has been sentenced to 15 years in North Korean prison and surveillance of him stealing the sign has been released:
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