North Korea confirmed on Thursday, June 15, that it had released United States student Otto Warmbier on Tuesday, June 13, on humanitarian grounds. Warmbier was sentenced in January 2016 to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea after being charged with anti-DPRK activities during his stay in Pyongyang. North Korea said he had contracted botulism and fallen ill shortly after beginning his sentence of hard labor in March 2016, and US officials were informed shortly before his release that he had spent the past year in a coma. However, after medical examinations completed in the US, senior government and medical officials have expressed doubts about the North Korean explanation for the coma. US doctors have stated Warmbier suffered an undefined "neurological injury" while in custody.
His release was reportedly the outcome of negotiations between the DPRK and the United States.
Otto Warmbier, a student from the University of Virginia, was arrested on January 2, 2016, when he was in Pyongyang as a tourist with Young Pioneer Tours. He was convicted of trying to steal a propaganda poster, to which he confessed in a tearful confession that many believe was forced, admitting that his aim “was to harm the motivation and work ethic of the Korean people.”
As a reminder, travel within North Korea is severely restricted. Whether visiting on business or as a tourist, tourists will almost always be accompanied by a guide, and tours will be restricted to sanctioned areas.