North Korea has released the American student who it sentenced to 15 years hard labor for stealing a poster – and he has been evacuated from the country in a coma after mysteriously falling ill a year ago.
Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student, was caught allegedly stealing the poster from his hotel on New Year’s Eve 2015 and imprisoned after being paraded for the cameras at a show trial in March.
Now it has been revealed that he has been in a coma since shortly after his last public appearance – after the North Koreans say he contracted botulism and doctors gave him a ‘sleeping pill’ from which he never woke up.
The surprise announcement of Warmbier’s release comes just hours after former NBA player Dennis Rodman – a longtime friend of the regime led by Kim Jong-Un – arrived in North Korea on a return visit.
Warmbier was released and medically evacuated through a US military base in Japan, and is due to arrive in his home city of Cincinnati on Tuesday evening, his parents told the Washington Post.
Otto Warmbier, pictured at the North Korean Supreme Court , was arrested in January 2016
The announcement of the Warmbier’s release comes as former NBA player Dennis Rodman is paying a return visit to North Korea
Warmbier reacts at a news conference in North Korea in February 2016. It has been revealed that the UVA student has been in a coma since shortly after he appeared at the conference
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un is seen. The regime released Warmbier as former NBA star Dennis Rodman pays a visit to Kim
‘Our son is coming home,’ Fred Warmbier told The Post. ‘At the moment, we’re just treating this like he’s been in an accident. We get to see our son Otto tonight.’
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the State Department secured Warmbier’s release at the direction of President Donald Trump.
Tillerson says the State Department continues discussing three other detained Americans with North Korea.
‘The Department of State continues to have discussions with the DPRK regarding three other US citizens reported detained. Out of respect for the privacy of Mr. Warmbier and his family, we have no further comment on Mr. Warmbier,’ Tillerson’s statement said, referencing the initials for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the country’s official name.
Tillerson’s statement did not mention Warmbier’s medical condition.
Rex Tillerson says the State Department secured Warmbier’s release, but did not mention his medical condition
There is no way of verifying the North Korean account of botulism and ‘sleeping pills’ leading to the coma.
The announcement of the student’s release comes as former NBA player Dennis Rodman is paying a return visit to North Korea.
The visit sparked speculation that Rodman, who has close ties to the North Korean regime led by Kim Jong-Un, could negotiate for the release of Warmbier and three other US citizens being held in the isolated country.
North Korea has arrested and jailed several US citizens in the past decade, often releasing them only after high-profile visits by current or former US officials.
But efforts to secure the release of Warmbier and three other Americans currently being held by the regime had failed until Tuesday’s surprise announcement.
Warmbier speaks to reporters in Pyongyang in February 2016. Secretary of State Tillerson said on Tuesday that North Korea released the jailed US university student
Warmbier has not been seen publicly since this February 2016 press conference. Swedish diplomats who represent America’s interests in North Korea have reportedly been barred from visiting him
Warmbier is a University of Virginia student from suburban Cincinnati.
He was sentenced in March 2016 after a televised tearful public confession to trying to steal a propaganda banner.
That was the last time he had been publicly seen or heard from, and Swedish diplomats who represent America’s interests in North Korea have reportedly been barred from visiting him.
Warmbier had been on a visit to North Korea on his way for a semester abroad in Hong Kong when the incident occurred on New Year’s Eve 2015.
North Korean security services spotted Warmbier on CCTV and arrested him on suspicion of spying and ‘crimes against the state’.
The US State Department has repeatedly warned American citizens not to visit North Korea.