American Student Sentenced to 15 Years in North Korean Jail for Stealing a Sign
An American student was sentenced Wednesday to 15 years in prison with hard labor in North Korea after he admitted stealing a sign in a modern day tale of Midnight Express.
Otto Warmbier, a 21-year-old University of Virginia student, was convicted by North Korea’s Supreme Court, which argued that his act was “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.”
Prior to his trial, Warmbier said he wanted to swipe the banner so someone back home could hang it in her church (see above video). Authorities arrested Warmbier when he attempted to leave North Korea shortly after the New Year. He was in the country with a tour group, which is legal for Americans to do, although the State Department frowns upon it.
Warmbier’s chances of getting out of jail do not look good, since the U.S. does not have any relationship with North Korea, which claims his act was the work of the American government. Bill Richardson, a former governor of New Mexico, is working to secure his release.
Warmbier, who said he planned the whole thing (it’s not clear if he was coerced into saying that), allegedly stole a propaganda sign from near his hotel and told officials he did it with the understanding he’d give it to his mother’s friend to hang in her church in exchange for getting a used car.