Pyongyang Gives American Student 15 Years Hard Labor

Otto Warmbier was charged with subversion for stealing a banner
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 16, 2016 3:00 AM CDT
Updated Mar 16, 2016 5:17 AM CDT
In this Feb. 29, 2016 photo, American student Otto Warmbier speaks as he is presented to reporters in Pyongyang, North Korea.    (Kim Kwang Hyon)
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(Newser) – North Korea's highest court sentenced an American tourist to 15 years in prison with hard labor on Wednesday for subversion. Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia undergraduate, was convicted and sentenced in a one-hour trial in North Korea's Supreme Court, the AP reports. He was charged with subversion under Article 60 of North Korea's criminal code. The court held that he had committed a crime "pursuant to the US government's hostile policy toward (the North), in a bid to impair the unity of its people after entering it as a tourist." Warmbier was arrested as he tried to leave the country in early January. He was in North Korea with a New Year's tour group.

Before the trial, the 21-year-old from Wyoming, Ohio, said he had tried to steal a propaganda banner from a hotel as a trophy for an acquaintance who wanted to hang it in her church. That would be grounds in North Korea for a subversion charge. In a tearful statement, echoing a televised confession last month, Warmbier claimed he had been offered a used car worth $10,000 if he could get a North Korean banner, and that he had been encouraged by UVA's "Z Society," a semi-secret philanthropic group that North Korea claims is in league with the CIA. Such confessions tend to be recanted as soon as foreigners detained by North Korea are released, the AP notes. (Warmbier's parents have been unable to contact him since he was detained.)

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