A student from the United States has been arrested by North Korea on suspicion of committing a “hostile act” against the state.
Pyongyang’s Korean Central New Agency has identified the alleged student as 21-year-old Otto Frederick Warmbier, who is an undergrad at the University of Virginia, and is said to have entered North Korea as a tourist but was allegedly plotting to undermine the country by “destroying its unity.”
The events come just weeks after North Korea conducted a supposed H-bomb test (which has yet to be confirmed) in violation of UN sanctions. It is the countries fourth nuclear test since 2006 and has resulted in condemnation from the United States, which has since demanded stricter UN economic penalties against the country.
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Mr. Warmbier is claimed to have links to the United States government, and according to the Korean Central News Agency (which is run by North Korea), the alleged act was “tolerated and manipulated” by the United States.
The owner of a China-based tour agency, Gareth Johnson, informed Reuters that Mr. Warmbier had taken part in one of their tours to Pyongyang in North Korea and that he had been detained by North Korean authorities on January 2.
Mr. Johnson’s tour agency, Young Poineer Tours, released a statement via their website Friday confirming the news.
“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.”
An official at the U.S embassy in the South Korean capital, Seoul, confirmed it was aware of the reported arrest.
There have been no further details of the incident, and the student is said to be under investigation.
This will be the third Westerner to be detained by North Korea if the reports are accurate.
South Korean-born Canadian paster Hyeon Soo Lim was detained by the country last year and has since been sentenced to life in prison with hard labor for an alleged plot to overthrow North Korean government, according to state reports.
The US State Department is also investigating the reports of another US citizen being held by the Northern state on charges of espionage earlier this month.
CNN reported that officials in Pyongyang allowed CNN “exclusive” access to the accused American, who identified himself as Kim Dong Chul to a CNN correspondent and claims to have lived in Fairfax, Virginia (the same state as the current detainee).
“I’m asking the U.S. or South Korean government to rescue me,” Mr. Chul pleaded during an interview at a hotel in the North Korean capital.
With North Korea’s long history of detaining foreigners, the U.S State Department has strongly advised Americans against travelling to North Korea.
In 2014, three Americans being detained by North Korea (Matthew Todd Miller, Kenneth Bae and Jeffrey Fowle) were released unharmed.
(Photo by Ahn Young-Joon-Pool/Getty Images)