Otto Warmbier was accused by North Korea of stealing a propaganda poster in January, 2016, and was sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labor. When he was released back to the United States, North Korean officials said Warmbier had contracted botulism and that’s why he was in a coma. He passed away soon after he returned to America in June, 2017; he was 22-years-old.
About a week ago, Otto’s parents, Cindy and Fred Warmbier, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against North Korea, alleging that the regime had tortured their son, leading to his death.
For the Warmbiers, the lawsuit is just the beginning. They are speaking out, and refuse to be silenced any longer. Otto’s parents gave a speech at the U.N. symposium recently and made their position clear, reported the Cincinnati Enquirer.
“I can’t let Otto die in vain…. We’re not special, but we’re Americans and we know what freedom’s like, and we have to stand up for this. We have to.”
For them, speaking out against the North Korean regime was completely off the table while Otto was in their custody because they feared retaliation. But now that their son has passed away, they decided that it’s important to speak out publicly about their experience and about what they know about the circumstances surrounding Otto’s death. Cindy said that Otto was brain dead around four months into captivity, but North Korea “left him in a horrible place with no care to vegetate.” American doctors never confirmed that Otto had botulism.
During this sensitive time when North Korea and South Korea have announced their desires to work together to achieve reunification and denuclearization of the peninsula, the Warmbiers realize how important it is for Kim Jong Un to put forth a certain image. And as the meeting between President Trump and Kim moves forward in its planning stages, Otto’s story is increasingly relevant. The Warmbiers want to “rub [the North Korean government’s] noses in this” in order to embarrass the regime as much as possible.
“We are trying to build a pathway that leads directly to Kim and his regime to force them to be answerable for their actions.”
The Warmbiers are not alone. Japanese families, whose relatives have been held captive by North Korea, also spoke at the symposium. Katsunobu Kato, a Japanese minister, said that the pressure on North Korea should be kept at a “maximum” until denuclearization and human rights violations are rectified. Kato would also like Trump to discuss Otto during their upcoming meeting.