North Korea presented an American student, Otto Warmbier, before the media Monday, where he apologized for attempting to steal a banner from a staff-only section in the hotel he was staying. Warmbier, a 21 year-old undergraduate student of the University of Virginia, confessed that he wanted to pinch the “trophy” for a member of his local church – Friendship United Methodist Church in Wyoming, Ohio.
As Yahoo News reports, Warmbier was arrested in late January after the North Korean government accused him of committing an “anti-state crime with tacit connivance of the U.S. government and under its manipulation.” Warmbier was detained while in the country at the behest of Young Pioneer Tours, an agency that provides budget tours to places most people try to avoid, including Iraq, Cuba, Iran, and countries of the former Soviet bloc.
— Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) February 29, 2016
The undergraduate had been staying at the Yanggakdo International Hotel, close to the capital, Pyongyang. Most of the hotels in North Korea purportedly have sections that are inaccessible to foreigners. Warmbier had been accused of taking a political banner in a “no-holds barred” area of the hotel.
Warmbier said he had been offered a car worth $10,000 to take the banner, and his family had been promised a lump sum of $200,000 if he was detained. He said he accepted the offer because his family was “suffering from very severe financial difficulties.” He added “I started to consider this as my golden opportunity to earn money; I was told that if I ever mentioned the involvement of the church, no payments would come.” Pastor of the church, Meshach Kanyion, would not ascertain if he knew Warmbier. “I don’t have any comment at this time,” he told the press.
Warmbier further revealed that he was encouraged by his University’s fraternity that he had been trying to join. The “Z Society” was founded in 1892 and is known for its honorary dinners, academic awards, and philanthropic activities. The university had no comment about the North Korea saga, but confirmed that they were in immediate contact with the Warmbier family.
Warmbier’s parents are happy to finally see their son. “You can imagine how deeply worried we were and what a traumatic experience this has been for us. I hope the fact that he has conveyed his sincere apology for anything that he may have done wrong will now make it possible for the North Korean authorities allow him to return home,” Fred Warmbier said.
— Norm Gregory (@NormGregory) February 29, 2016
The communist East Asian nation, officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is notorious for its propaganda against the U.S. Most of the detainees have always recanted their statements upon release and said they were forced to make statements.
North Korea continues to accuse Washington and Seoul of trying to infiltrate the country with spies in order to overthrow the government and have a U.S.-backed South Korea control the Korean Peninsula. The U.S. State Department continues to warn its citizens about the dangers of traveling to the country, even though traveling to the North Korea is legal and many Americans go to and fro without incident. They warn that the vague rules make it easy for citizens to be detained, arrested, and even jailed.
Recently, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, showed off a newly-developed anti-tank weapon that he claimed had “the longest firing range in the world and could turn armored enemy tanks into boiled pumpkin.” He called for a mass production of the weapon to begin immediately and be deployed to the frontlines, ready for war.
North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, possesses a siege mentality bordering on paranoia like his father before him. The country has 12 million active troops out of a population of 25 million people. This is twice the size of the military force of South Korea, which has over 50 million people.
As of this writing, it is not clear when, or if, Otto Warmbier will be allowed to leave North Korea.
[Image via Shutterstock/Astrelok]