Otto Warmbier's Parents Sue North Korea Over His Death
Wrongful death lawsuit may prove largely symbolic
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 26, 2018 5:34 PM CDT
American student Otto Warmbier speaks during a press conference on Monday, Feb. 29, 2016, in Pyongyang, North Korea.   (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon)

(Newser) – The parents of US college student Otto Warmbier filed a wrongful death lawsuit against North Korea on Thursday, saying its government "brutally tortured and murdered" their son, the Washington Post and the AP report. Fred and Cindy Warmbier filed the lawsuit in the US District Court in Washington, DC, seeking compensation for the death of the 22-year-old, whose plight had compounded tense US-North Korean relations. Otto Warmbier, who was a student at University of Virginia, was arrested by North Korean authorities in January 2016 for stealing a propaganda poster and sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labor. He died in June 2017, days after he was repatriated to the US with severe brain damage. "Otto was taken hostage, kept as a prisoner for political purposes, used as a pawn and singled out for exceptionally harsh and brutal treatment by Kim Jong Un," Fred Warmbier said in a statement.

"Kim and his regime have portrayed themselves as innocent, while they intentionally destroyed our son's life. This lawsuit is another step in holding North Korea accountable for its barbaric treatment of Otto and our family," he said. The lawsuit says that when Warmbier returned, his parents "were stunned to see his condition. Otto was blind and deaf. He had a shaved head, a feeding tube coming out of his nose, was jerking violently and howling, and was completely unresponsive to any of their efforts to comfort him." His once straight teeth were misaligned and he had an unexplained, scarred wound on his left foot. While the lawsuit may prove largely symbolic given the difficulty of recovering any damages the court might order, it comes at a delicate time in relations between Washington and Pyongyang. President Donald Trump is planning an unprecedented summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the coming weeks.

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