22 years old Otto Warmbier has died only days after being returned to the United States by North Korea.
The University of Virginia student – on his way to Hong Kong for a study-abroad program – used the days before the program was to start for a brief tour of North Korea. As he was about to depart North Korea, he was arrested at the airport and charged with allegedly stealing a political poster from his Pyongyang hotel room. In the court, the alleged theft of a propaganda poster became “hostile acts against the state”. In spite of his tearful “confession”, Otto Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of prison and hard labor.
Then only 21, in a strange land, without any contact with his family, Otto was locked up in a North Korean prison. No one knows what transpired behind the walls.
In May of this year, United States officials were notified by North Korea – in an emergency meeting the North Koreans requested – that Otto Warmbier has been in a coma for a year. In official explanation, Warmbier’s condition was blamed on botulism which he allegedly contracted in prison.
On June 13th, Otto returned to Cincinnati, Ohio. His family and a medical team greeted him at the airport, he was unresponsive. Warmbier arrived at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center in a state described by doctors as “unresponsive wakefulness”. From the moment the plane landed in the U.S. Otto couldn’t see, hear, move or respond.
Less than one week after his return to Ohio Otto Warmbier has died. The exact cause of his coma and eventually, death isn’t known. Botulism was excluded. It was discovered that a significant amount of Otto’s brain tissue was missing. Otto’s family is devastated.
Following Otto Warmbier’s passing, President Donald Trump said in a statement: “Melania and I offer our deepest condolences to the family of Otto Warmbier on his untimely passing. There is nothing more tragic for a parent than to lose a child in the prime of life. Our thoughts and prayers are with Otto’s family and friends, and all who loved him.”
In the aftermath of Otto Warmbier’s death, the Trump administration considers banning – or restricting – travel to North Korea.
No one knows what really transpired during Warmbier’s stay in North Korea.
Did Otto steal a propaganda poster as the North Koreans allege or not? Assuming that he did, how can a theft of a poster (wall art!) be interpreted as “hostile acts against the state”? Again, assuming that he stole a poster, charging him for the cost of replacement would make sense. Issuing a financial penalty would be justified. Calling an alleged theft of property “hostile acts against the state” isn’t. “Punishing” an alleged – or even actual – theft of a poster with 15 years of prison and hard labor isn’t, either.
Warmbier’s tearful court “confession” speaks volumes of the treatment he was subjected to. One can only imagine what happened after the sentence was handed down, what kind of treatment sent the young, intelligent and healthy man into a coma….
Otto Warmbier represented the best of American youth. He was the captain of his high-school soccer team and a homecoming king. Passionate about economics and rap music, he had a penchant for thrift store shopping. He had spunk and zest for life. Thousands turned up to honor his memory and celebrate his life. It wasn’t his time to die.
Anything L.A. Liberal Magazine’s Editor, E. Elrich