North Korea Sentences 21-Year-Old American Student Otto Warmbier to 15 Years of Hard Labor

Warmbier Credit: Xinhua/Lu Rui via Getty Images

University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier has been sentenced by North Korea to 15 years of hard labor for crimes against the isolated state, a North Korean official told CNN on Wednesday, March 16.

Warmbier, 21, traveled to North Korea's capital of Pyongyang over the holidays through a China-based travel organization known as the Young Pioneer Tours. On January 2, the college student was arrested at the airport as he was boarding a plane.

His crime against the state, according to North Korea, was stealing a banner, which apparently had North Korean propaganda on it, from his hotel during his stay.

In a press conference last month, Warmbier — flanked by security guards — read an apology statement. "I committed the crime of taking down a political slogan from the staff holding area of the Yanggakdo International Hotel," he said at the time. "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!"

The U.S. State Department's spokesman Mark Toner called for Warmbier's release this week. "Now that Mr. Warmbier has gone through the criminal process, we would urge [North Korean officials] to grant him a special pardon and release him," Toner said, while White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest added that any claims made against the college junior "would not give rise to arrest or imprisonment in the United States or in just about any other country in the world.”

Earnest also accused the hermit state of using "U.S. citizens as pawns to pursue a political agenda."

Just this past week, the increasingly reclusive state fired two ballistic missiles, which resulted in President Obama ordering new sanctions against North Korea. In his statement on Wednesday, March 16, Obama called the state's recent nuclear and missile tests "illicit."

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