Otto Warmbier, 1994-2017

June 20, 2017 12:00 PM

Otto Warmbier, a 22 year-old University of Virginia student, died yesterday from injuries sustained while in detention in North Korea. Our condolences go out to the Warmbier family: their grief must be unimaginable.

Denied legal representation, in March 2016 Warmbier was convicted in a North Korean court and sentenced to 15-years hard labor, for attempting to steal a propaganda poster. The punishment was utterly disproportionate to the crime.

Until last week, that hour-long trial was the last time Warmbier was seen by any outsider. In detention, in contravention to an existing diplomatic agreement, Warmbier was denied consular visits by the Swedish embassy which represents US interests in Pyongyang.

What happened to Warmbier in prison will never be known. Medical examination suggests that for unknown reasons he entered a coma last spring, possibly within weeks of his trial.

The killing of Otto Warmbier simply underscores the horrific cynicism of the Kim Jong-un regime. Now is a time for grief. We have plenty of time to consider responses.



This is indeed a sad story. My condolences to Warmbier's family too!

I agree the sentence imposed on him was too harsh, considering his age and the deep apology he had offered in his press conference last year. Even if the sentence was imposed as a warning to other foreign visitors, Otto should have been released sooner in consideration of his serious medical conditions. 

As for the cause of his coma, we should be careful not to make any pre-judgment. At his press conference, Otto said he was well treated, and his recent medical check in the US also showed that ther was no signs of any physical injury inflicted on him. I am not an expert on this, but It seems it is quite possible that his brain injury may have developed naturally due to the extreme emotional distress he was suffering after the press conference and trial. 

It is also quite sad that the Obama administration was negligent to make any serious efforts to secure an early release of Otto in 2016, under the mistaken policy of "strategic patience" of no direct talks with North Korea for political reasons.

Rick Stewart

It appears there are a few small errors in the common story.

1) he did not 'steal' the banner (not poster), he took it off the wall, looked at the back of it, then put it on the floor. This is on video.
2) he was not on the forbidden 5th floor, it was 2 o'clock in the morning and the banner was behind the reception desk.

No one knows if he was drunk, but at that hotel, at 2 o'clock in the morning, in my personal experience, there are very few sober tourists or Koreans.

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