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North Korea Sentences U.S. Student to 15 Years Hard Labor

North Korea Sentences U.S. Student to 15 Years Hard Labor

For stealing a political slogan sign

A 21-year-old University of Virginia student was busted for swiping a political slogan sign while visiting North Korea. He was arrested, run through a kangaroo court where he apologized for allowing the U.S. administration to, “lure him into” the heinous crime of stealing a sign to demoralize Korean workers, and then sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

The Hill reports:

Otto Warmbier was visiting the country on a trip arranged by a Chinese travel organization called Young Pioneer Tours. The 21-year-old University of Virginia student was arrested on Jan. 2 as he was about to board a plane to leave the country.
Warmbier admitted in a press conference last month to stealing a banner with a political slogan from his hotel in Pyongyang.

“I committed the crime of taking down a political slogan from the staff holding area of the Yanggakdo International Hotel,” he said tearfully while reading from a statement. “I never, never should have allowed myself to be lured by the United States administration to commit a crime in this country.”

“I wish that the United States administration never manipulate people like myself in the future to commit crimes against foreign countries. I entirely beg you, the people and government of the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], for your forgiveness. Please! I made the worst mistake of my life!”

Warmbier is not the first American in recent years to be convicted by the rogue state for “hostile acts.”

Kenneth Bae was released after two years of a 15-year sentence, while Matthew Miller was released after less than a year of his six-year sentence.

In January, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump praised North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. “You gotta give him credit,” for wiping out his political opponents, Trump said.

Follow Kemberlee on Twitter @kemberleekaye


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GeorgeCrosley | March 16, 2016 at 4:36 pm

I actually don’t have much sympathy for him. Students should have some understanding of communism or Islam before traveling to countries ruled under those systems.

    Yeah, pretty much. The world is just one big leafy college campus to these people. One day, someone will “broker” his release, he’ll return to the US – his dorm room – and we’ll all be treated to lectures as he shares his wsdom with us…. while wearing a Che t-shirt.

Lucien Cordier | March 16, 2016 at 4:38 pm

First, no sympathy. The guy is a flippin’ idiot.

Second, Ms. Kaye’s TDS is becoming pretty severe. She should see a specialist to help her get it under control or it may become critical come November.

    dystopia in reply to Lucien Cordier. | March 16, 2016 at 4:55 pm

    I agree. I suggest Ms. Kaye remove that last cheap shot. It speaks poorly of her.

      tom swift in reply to dystopia. | March 16, 2016 at 5:40 pm

      As pointed out yesterday, it’s getting ridiculous. And not in a good way.

      gasper in reply to dystopia. | March 16, 2016 at 6:09 pm

      If you disagree, then perhaps you could help Kemberlee understand what he did say.

      inspectorudy in reply to dystopia. | March 17, 2016 at 1:06 am

      Can you explain why it is a cheap shot? Did Trump say it or not? Just like his “Assessment” of Tienanmen Square where he said that the Chinese government handled it with power and efficiency. Trump has an uncontrolable mouth which if not curbed will or could cause WWIII.

I wonder exactly what US agency urged this behavior? I also have to ask: wonder if this particular student has a new respect for the 1st amendment freedoms he enjoys at home?

First mistake was going to NK. The second was doing something stupid during his stay. The leader of that country is a total nutjob and any sentence was going to be unreasonable and harsh.

No sympathy for an idiot. Enjoy your time in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea sweetie. Make sure to invoke your “Constitutional Right to due process”

Now let’s get those leftist BLM and Occupy Protestors to peacefully demonstrate in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Speak truth to power.

    sidebar in reply to dystopia. | March 17, 2016 at 12:03 pm

    No worries. With time off form good behavior he will be out in 14 years. I suggest he follow this stunt up by going to NYC and touching the ground and third rail on the subway tracks. He won’t have to apologize after that.

    As for the BLM-Occupy crowd I think a peaceful protest during one of Kim Jong-Un’s speeches would be most interesting. May I suggest they try “Kim Lies, kids die”. Very peaceful. The last part will turn out to be true.

Something is wrong with either this guy’s parents or the guy himself that he could ever think a vacation in beautiful North Korea was a really good idea. Either he’s got parents like the idiot Bergdahl or he fell under the spell of some radical pro commie leftist group. I can’t think of anything else to account for his naive foolishness.

I say we bring him back. No food for the Norks until they set him loose.

He’s an idiot, and he got himself into this mess. But he could be useful now, both as a show of strength and as a mouth piece for what kind of place North Korea really is.

    JimMtnViewCaUSA in reply to Same Same. | March 16, 2016 at 10:58 pm

    Aren’t we still technically at war with them? It should be easy to quietly ratchet up “events” to the point where they decide it’s simpler to let him loose.

    rokiloki in reply to Same Same. | March 17, 2016 at 1:43 am

    He’s a loser who thinks socialism is a dream come true. Do you really think he has the intellect to analyze the experience and conclude his worldview was wrong?

      Clinger in reply to rokiloki. | March 17, 2016 at 10:53 am

      Sorry for the down vote, my bad.

      He may have been an idiot in his worldview BEFORE, but I’ll bet his opinions have changed a bit by now.

This idiot either learned an admiration for communism from his parents or his professors who never condemn communist dictators but present them as just another form of economic government. Maybe he can get an absentee ballot to vote for Bernie.

Actions have consequences and stupidity often has a very steep price.

What I thought interesting about this event was that the Norks went straight for the perp. I’d have expected them to use the theft as an excuse to hold up the whole group for days, searching everyone down to their hair follicles and doing some indoctrination and speechifying while at it.

    forksdad in reply to tom swift. | March 16, 2016 at 7:21 pm

    Maybe it was planted? Wouldn’t put it past the Norks. My guess though is that this guy was this stupid and wanted a souvenir. The Norks used it for their ridiculous ‘American Administration’ propaganda.

    They probably don’t want to cut off all friendly contact. They lose the chance of recruiting and making contacts and the hard currency those guys must bring or pay in fees.

Sammy Finkelman | March 16, 2016 at 5:41 pm

The North Korean regime doesn’t want people to understand what a horrendous regime it is – in fact they don’t want people to think there’s anytjing bad about it at all – and then tehy get surprised, and come down hard on people who do things like this.

It’s an internal contradiction. They are actually undermining their whole foreign propaganda operation.

They should ask themselves: WWHD? Or Stalin.

Sammy Finkelman | March 16, 2016 at 5:42 pm

U.S diplomats probably aren’t smart enough to use that argument.

Sammy Finkelman | March 16, 2016 at 5:44 pm

I don’t think Donald Trump is, either.

Trump called Jong-Un a “maniac” during remarks about North Korea’s nuclear program during a rally at Ottumwa, Iowa, but conceded, “You gotta give him credit.”

“How many young guys — he was like 26 or 25 when his father died — take over these tough generals, and all of a sudden … he goes in, he takes over, and he’s the boss,” Trump said. “It’s incredible. He wiped out the uncle, he wiped out this one, that one. I mean this guy doesn’t play games. And we can’t play games with him.”

IOW, he’s a maniac we should not underestimate. ABC and LI use a selective partial quote to deliberately try to mislead their readers.

I know a lot of people are not very sympathetic to someone who would be so dense as to try to commit even a petty crime in a totalitarian regime like North Korea. I have not followed this case at all, but I have to ask, is it at all possible that this kid didn’t even commit this petty crime? I mean, totalitarian regimes have been known to completely fake charges just to get more political pawns. Even though the kid “confessed” to the charges, it is not like he couldn’t have been subject to some pretty harsh treatment while being a “guest” in one of their jails.

    Exiliado in reply to cazinger. | March 16, 2016 at 8:29 pm

    He went to North Korea.
    That in itself is plain stupid.

    I agree that he probably did not commit the so called “crime”, though.
    But he thought it was a good idea to go to North Korea !

    Observer in reply to cazinger. | March 17, 2016 at 12:05 pm

    Check out today’s Daily Mail. There is videotape of the guy taking down the poster. It is well known that these communist regimes bug and record everything that goes on in tourist hotels, so the young man’s stupidity is even harder to comprehend.

Man, what a tough audience. Yeah the guy screwed up, but 15 years of hard labor and many of you are not only OK with that, but are actually in “he got what he deserved” mode.

Nowhere in this article does it say he went there because he admires communism or N Korea. Hell, you can visit Chicago but that doesn’t mean you are a leftist loon or approve of their politics.

Lighten up and show some compassion for somebody whose life is pretty much ruined. If this is what conservativism is becoming, leave me out.

    meyou in reply to Anchovy. | March 16, 2016 at 7:06 pm

    Who in God’s name would even THINK of visiting NK? Did he ask for this? I’d sooner believe he considered himself “beyond any real danger”. Lots of kids in their 20’s are dead because they were “beyond any real danger”. Ignorance is sad.

    Olinser in reply to Anchovy. | March 16, 2016 at 7:11 pm

    He was there for a freaking VACATION. He didn’t end up there by accident.

    You don’t look at a list of countries and think, “Hey, North Korea is a fantastic place to go vacation!”

    This idiot was clearly riding the tiresome liberal horse of, ‘That’s just evil propaganda’, and, ‘they aren’t bad, just misunderstood’. I’m willing to be if you went back in his personal history that he’s previously railed against evil conservatives and how oppressive they are.

    Now this idiot is getting a very hard and long lesson in REAL oppressive government.

    Does he DESERVE it? Maybe not. But he most definitely brought it upon himself with his stupidity.

      cazinger in reply to Olinser. | March 16, 2016 at 8:36 pm

      He is a student at UVA, majoring in economics and commerce. It is entirely possible that he traveled to N. Korea out of intellectual curiosity, to see for himself (or at least as much as he could) what are the real life effects of living under an economic system such as that in N. Korea, with virtually no international commerce.

      I am just not willing to buy everything the N. Koreans are telling us about this (or anything else for that matter). It is not like N. Korea has a stellar record for truthfulness (or for kind treatment of those it calls criminals – whether such a label is deserved or not).

        Sanddog in reply to cazinger. | March 18, 2016 at 12:10 am

        Then he was twice as stupid. When you “vacay” in a place like North Korea, you’re only allowed to see the people the regime wishes you to see and speak to the people the regime wishes you to hear. You don’t get a clear picture of anything except the oppressive nature of a totalitarian regime.

    inspectorudy in reply to Anchovy. | March 17, 2016 at 1:11 am

    You would probably be the first American to volunteer to give one month’s pay to help ransom this idiot. This is like watching the idiots on TV who do stupid things and then go to the ER so that we can all pay for their idiocy. No, you do something stupid then you pay the price. Period!

    Arminius in reply to Anchovy. | March 17, 2016 at 11:18 am

    It’s possible to find companies on the internet that offer tours of the DPRK. But if you have the mad internet skillz to find those companies, then there’s no excuse for failing to do your due diligence to learn what you’re getting into.

    North Korea is one giant concentration camp run entirely for the benefit of the party elite. Ultimately, only really for the pleasure of the Kim family. Below them are various grades of what can best be thought of as prison guards and trustees with privileges that go with their grade. Then below that are the various grades of ordinary prisoners. Lots of things can get you demoted in the NORK prison system. The guards will conduct monthly inspections of of peoples homes to see if they are showing proper reverence to the “great leader” (Kim il Sung) and the “dear leader” (Kim Jong il) by hanging their portraits in a prominent place. Are they hung correctly or the slightest bit crooked? Are they dusted? Is your radio tuned to the correct patriotic NORK station? Is everyone wearing their “Great Leader/Dear Leader” lapel pins.

    Lots of things besides the above can get you demoted and stripped of privileges in the North Korean prison system. One woman I know about was sent to a concentration camp because her neighbors overheard her singing South Korean pop songs while cleaning inside her home. That meant she must have been listening to the subversive capitalist running dog South’s stations, the enemies of the people. She eventually got out, and later escaped the regime. The lowest rung of prison system consist of the Total Control Zones. These are for the worst of the worst as far as the Kims are concerned. There is no getting out, and not just for the individual offender who committed thoughtcrime or speakcrime. For his entire family to three generations. His parents if they are still alive, his wife or her husband depending on who offends, and the offenders children. Here they will be worked and starved to death without mercy, beaten, tortured, and raped. If anyone commits the slightest infraction they’ll be executed, and the rest of the family will be forced to watch from the front row. If anyone shows the slightest emotion, even a tear, they’ll be executed as well. How dare they regret the execution of such a criminal traitor to Kim Jong Un!

    Meanwhile a good day is when you can find a few undigested kernels of corn in the ox dung; the farm animals being treated and fed far better than the prisoners being worked to death beside them

    The bottom line is if you can find this:

    “…But North Korea is neither democratic nor especially people friendly. The country is run by a despotic and paranoid regime, headed by Kim Jong Un, the third successor in the Kim dynasty of rulers who have created a personality cult where each Kim successor is said to be divine. The people are kept in line by a combination of fear, famine, disinformation and a perceived external threat in the form of the eternal archenemy “America” (especially the U.S.A.) as well as the harsh conditions in the many concentration camps.

    As his reign began in 2011, Kim Jong Un’s direction is unpredictable as he has rid himself of all of the advisors passed down by his father, however, he continues verbal nuclear threats aimed at the West and in 2013 launched protest missiles. On the other hand, he seems to love American basketball as much as his father was known for loving Hollywood movies. ”

    Ooh, goodie! There’s an “on the other hand.” And it’s sort of rich, don’t you think, to describe the DPRK as, “not especially people friendly.” Yeah, I suppose that’s one way to describe a country with a system of gulags.

    “…If you like bizarre, repressive regimes, or just want to go where few have ventured before, then definitely North Korea should be on your list.”

    Does anyone doubt that this student knew at least this much? Yeah it sucks to be a North Korean, but it’s a wacky place and only slightly dangerous for a tourist and something you can brag about because none of your friends will have this “adventure” notched on their belt. You’ll get some awesome selfies and kool stories out of it. Maybe you can buy a tee shirt that says, “I Survived North Korea” or something; none of your friends have anything like it. They’ll be soooo jealous.

    But as I said, if you can find that, you can also find this. Lots of this.

    “North Korea: Accounts from Camp Survivors”

    I don’t care what your motivations are. You’re a student and you are “intellectually curious?” Well, f*** you sideways with a shovel, how dare you put money in the pockets of the regime that does this to its own people. There is no excuse for taking a commercial tour of the DPRK. None.

    Then, you’ve got to work pretty hard to not know that the NORKs routinely grab American tourists to use them as negotiating pawns with the US. Really, these tourists think I’m going to have any sympathy for them considering they willingly offered themselves up as hostages to the NORKs and put the rest of us who aren’t brain dead in that kind of bind.

    As far as whether or not he committed the actual crime of attempting to steal the propaganda banner, I’ve read very believable accounts that he did it to impress a girl on the tour. I say attempted because apparently he couldn’t remove it entirely from its moorings, lost his nerve, and left it on the floor.

    I’m prejudiced by my 20 years in the Navy, but this is exactly the kind of stupidity that has sailors on legal hold all over the world. Probably alcohol was involved, dunno. And not just in communist hellholes. Singapore is a nice place, for instance, but they have crimes that don’t exist in other parts of the world. Take Offending the Modesty of a Female (OMF). There’s a multi-level mall on Orchard Rd. with a lot of bars and clubs among the other shops. The shops close, the nightlife opens, and its a mecca for the visiting sailors. It’s affectionately known as Four Floors o’ Whores. Which is accurate as you’ll find working girls from Russia, Thailand, the Koreas, Taiwan, etc. You’ll also find local girls who aren’t working girls. The cops ignore a lot of what goes on there, even if it involves the local amateurs, as they figure the ladies deserve what they get for going. And I’m not talking about anything particularly raunchy. A peck on the cheek, putting your hand on a girls bare arm, things like that.

    But do that anywhere else in Singapore and if the girl complains the sailor will be charged with OMF, administratively assigned to the shore establishment until the sailors legal issues are worked out, and the ship sails without that sailor. All for a crime the sailor didn’t know existed. Then there are crimes that would be considered petty in the US that they take very seriously. You might commit what in the US would be considered minor vandalism of some sort which you could settle with a court fine and restitution. Maybe getting drunk and breaking a window. In Singapore that will get you caned. You’ll be lashed naked from the waste down to a wicker frame and a martial arts expert using a rattan cane will flay the skin off your backside.

    So, since I’ve seen all sorts of stupidity and college kids are no smarter than sailors of the same age the story that he did this to impress a girl has the ring of truth.

    But no matter. You do not take a tour of North Korea for any reason, because you are exploiting the misery of your fellow human beings who aren’t leaving after five days of drinking beer and taking selfies. They’ve got a life sentence in hell and you’re putting money in the pockets of the people making their lives hell. That’s a despicable think to do. And you don’t put the rest of us in a bind by handing the Kims an easy hostage should they find one useful. I don’t care if you did keep your nose clean entirely. How dare these selfish tourists offer themselves up as bargaining chips?

      JimMtnViewCaUSA in reply to Arminius. | March 17, 2016 at 11:42 am

      Long and worth reading.

        Sorry for the length but I started typing and that’s what I ended up with. I didn’t see anything I could cut.

        If you want to see North Korea, take a tour of South Korea and look at it across the DMZ. That will cure you.

    rokiloki in reply to Anchovy. | March 17, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    To quote one of my favorite movies, “deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”

    If you knowingly do something incredibly stupid, why should I, or anyone, care about the consequences? I don’t think transporting drugs is reason enough to kill someone, but if you get caught smuggling drugs into Malaysia, I’m not going to lose any sleep. In fact, I may take the time to mock your foolishness.

    I don’t have any sympathy for willful ignorance.

Otto is the poster boy for this quote:

“In Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), John Wayne’s character, Sergeant Stryker, says, “Life is tough, but it’s tougher if you’re stupid.”

and many of you are not only OK with that

Ummm, no.

First, we can’t do anything about it an any case. It’s not like the Norks have asked us for approval and we’ve all given them the thumbs-up.

Two, we realize that the kid is in a hole because he’s showing so much stupidity it’s probably visible from orbit. Tour managers are careful to tell their charges when they’re in a country where certain charming tourist customs—such as stealing stuff from hotels—are frowned upon. NK is touchy about that, but it isn’t alone. The old Soviet Union was notoriously dangerous for the light-fingered; I believe Singapore is another where theft isn’t considered cute. Apparently, this bonehead did it anyway. Worse, he selfishly put his entire group at risk with his petty larceny.

    cazinger in reply to tom swift. | March 16, 2016 at 8:38 pm

    You assume the North Koreans are telling the truth about the charges and haven’t simply beaten the ever-loving tar out of him to get him to go along with it. I do not make that assumption.

      Arminius in reply to cazinger. | March 17, 2016 at 12:32 pm

      True. They might have beaten the tar out of him. When you fly into Pyongyang for as a tourist the NORKs can do anything they want with you, to you, anytime. As long as you are there you are entirely at their mercy. And if you’re a tourist you have no compelling business that is worth the risk; you voluntarily placed yourself at the mercy of what may be the cruellest and most inhuman regimes on earth.

      What part of “that’s why you don’t do that” don’t you understand?

Excessive or not, sometimes it helps to know the laws in other countries before you do something that might get you 15 years hard labor.

Don’t worry – we’ll just send Kerry over with a nuclear deal and everything should be fine.

You might call this guy ‘poster boy’ for learning where not to travel.

    Oh, it’s fine to travel to North Korea. Just not as a tourist.

    If you go what you want is to be heavily armed, with as many heavily armed friends as you can pull together, along with air, artillery, and naval gunfire support.

Too bad they didn’t lock up that sinister Google weirdo Eric Schmidt when he was there.

I don’t understand why he’s complaining. He’s living his socialist dream.

15 years labor for $200,000 is $1111 per month, way above the North Korean minimum wage of $74 per month and even more than the US Supplemental Security Income maximum of $733 per month. The North Koreans may think he’s getting off easy.

What a maroon.

Shoulda been you, Rodman.

No sympathy. Remember those loser students a few years ago who were captured while innocently hiking in Iran? They were sent to prison for spying or whatever. Their parents made a big splash to get our government involved to get them back (one was from the Philly area so it was covered here a lot). The government moved heaven and earth (& probably gave the Iranians our nuclear codes) to get them released and were the students grateful? No, of course not. They were progressives. So, of course, they went went on a national speaking tour bashing the ‘oppressive’ US.

Let the guy rot. Maybe it will discourage a few more idiots from visiting these workers’ paradises. Probably not. They’ll continue to believe doing ‘hard time’ is living in imperialist America and being micro-aggressed by sombreros at a tequila party.