Otto Warmbier, 1994-2017

Marcus Noland (PIIE)



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.

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