Earth & Conservation

American Student Sentenced to 15 Years Hard Labor in North Korea

Otto Warmbier faces 15 years of prison and hard labor for stealing a political poster from his hotel room.

<p>Photo: Wiki Media Commons</p>

An American college student was sentenced to 15 years of prison and hard labor in North Korea for attempting to steal a political propaganda poster from his hotel room. Otto F. Warmbier, a 21-year-old student at the University of Virginia, was in North Korea as part of a tour group, and was detained on Jan. 2 as he was about to board a plane out of the country, according to The New York Times. When his arrest was announced by state news media, they said Warmbier had intentions of "bringing down the foundation of its single-minded unity."

The White House is very unhappy with North Korea's decision, further escalating tensions between the two governments. Shortly after Warmbier's sentencing, Obama's administration announced broad new sanctions against North Korean officials as well as industries like mining, shipping, and energy. The U.S. government, humanitarian groups and supporters of Warmbier all agree that 15 years of hard labor for stealing a poster is very extreme.

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While it's not technically illegal to visit North Korea, the U.S. strongly advises against it. When referencing the multiple Americans that have been detained by North Korea in recent years, White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, said it is "increasingly clear that the North Korean government intends to use these citizens as pawns."

Gov. John Kasich, of Warmbier's home state of Ohio, has been calling on North Korea to free him. He's also enlisted help from Bill Richardson, a longtime American diplomat who has experience dealing with North Korea, to help negotiate Warmbier's release. Richardson commented that Warmbier's sentence was "Hopefully a prelude to negotiations that might lead to a release on humanitarian grounds."

At a news conference arranged by the government in Pyongyang in February, Warmbier cried and pleaded for his release. He admitted to stealing the poster, but it is unclear whether he was forced into making this confession by North Korean officials.

To learn more about how North Korea's government works, check out: Who is Kim Jong-un?