If your parents are anything like mine, growing up you got excessive warnings to ‘be smart’ whenever travelling abroad. Whether flying to Europe for a semester or driving to Mexico for the weekend with friends, they repeated it over and over. And because we are young and invincible, we just rolled our eyes.
Every parent’s worst nightmare has just become a reality for the family of 21 year old Otto Warmbier, who was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for “crimes against the state’ in North Korea.
The University of Virginia student travelled to North Korea for a backpacking trip. While in the process of departing on January 2nd, Warmbier was arrested for stealing a political sign from a hotel he stayed at during his tour. Over a month and a half later, Warmbier confessed to taking the propaganda poster as a trophy for a member of his church who bribed him with a $10,000 car. It was later announced that Warmbier was not a member of the church he named and neither was his alleged briber.
Despite calls for his release from the US State Department and Human Rights Watch as well as a meeting from American diplomat Bill Richardson, Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years hard labor on March 16. At his trial (that only lasted one hour) a hysterical Warmbier said,
“I never, never should have allowed myself to be lured by the United States administration to commit a crime in this country, I wish that the United States administration never manipulate people like myself in the future to commit crimes against foreign countries. I entirely beg you, the people and government of the DPRK, for your forgiveness. Please! I made the worst mistake of my life!”
Two days after his conviction, a North Korean news agency released a video of the alleged theft, showing a dark figure, whose face goes unseen, removing the sign and placing it on the floor. While this is likely being used to rally support for the cause amongst North Koreans, it makes Americans suspicious.
The horrifying sentence is outrageous at best and at worst, entirely false. Say Warmbier is guilty. Most of the western world would chalk up the indiscretion to a college prank or youthful insensibility, making a sentence of 15 years an absolutely preposterous punishment. But an even more frightening notion is that Warmbier was forced into a confession in order to be used as a political pawn that forces the reopening of diplomatic negotiations.
Regardless of guilt, he’s a kid who at most, made a silly mistake and we hope he gets sent home.