Otto Warmbier, 22 years old, was arrested in January 2016 for attempting to steal a propaganda poster in a hotel as a souvenir. After a one hour trial, and a presumably coerced confession where he says the U.S. administration used him as a “lure” , he was condemned to 15 years hard labour by the North Korean Supreme Court. Little is known about the conditions in which he had to work : North Korea formally denies the existence of labour camps, yet according to a 2014 UN special commission report, a combination of satellite imagery and the testimonies of the few survivors, there are indeed such camps in North Korea and they are used to perpetrate atrocities onto their prisoners.
On June 6, North Korea claimed that Otto had contracted botulism, a very rare but life-threatening condition that causes paralysis. Upon finding this out, the State Department promptly organised a medical team to travel to North Korea with the intent of bringing him back to American soil. However, his doctors found no evidence of botulism. While one senior American official said Mr. Warmbier had been singled out for particularly brutal beatings, doctors found no evidence of broken bones or other injuries consistent with physical abuse. Thus, Otto was finally returned to the US in a coma last week after 17 months as a prisoner in North Korea. This was only possible after the U.S consistently urged for consular access to him and three other American prisoners for over a year (march 2016 – present). He has passed away in a Cincinnati hospital, his parents announced.
“It is our sad duty to report that our son, Otto Warmbier, has completed his journey home. Surrounded by his loving family, Otto died today at 2.20pm,” Fred and Cindy Warmbier wrote in a statement on Monday.
Otto’s death is a somber reminder of the dismal political situation in North Korea. Unfortunately, it usually takes for it to affect someone from the western world for the international community to react. Let’s use this to realise the amount of suffering going on in North Korea’s labour camps and to bolster action to aid the people of this country who have gone through so much pain.
For more information about the political situation in North Korea read this