HISTORY | NORTH KOREA
The Tragic Story of Otto Warmbier
Otto Warmbier’s story of wrongful conviction abroad is one that shook the world. Discover more about the tragedy and which steps have been taken since then.
Who Was Otto Warmbier?
Otto Warmbier was a United States citizen who studied economics and finance at the University of Virginia. He was arrested in North Korea in January 2016 while on a trip visiting the country as a member of a student tour group.
He was then convicted and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor after North Korean authorities found him guilty of “hostile acts“. Sadly, he passed away on June 19th, 2017 at the age or 22 after being released from prisoner and returned home to his family due to poor health conditions.
Otto was remembered as an adventurous, intelligent and loyal friend who enjoyed traveling with his family and friends. He had a vibrant personality that brightened up any room with his infectious smile and endearing charm.
During his life, he gave back to the community by helping out at homeless shelters, even setting up a forum online for exchanging resources within the University of Virginia campus community and inspiring other students to do the same.
After his death, his legacy was carried on by the Otto Warmbier Memorial Scholarship Fund which gives scholarships to other students interested in traveling abroad like Otto did.
The Alleged Crimes and Punishment
North Korea claimed that Otto Warmbier had committed “hostile acts” against the country and its government, allegedly in the form of stealing a propaganda poster.
He was convicted in March of 2016 and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in a North Korean prison. Warmbier was only released due to deteriorating health conditions following what was described as his coma-state that he arrived in after release from prison.
According to reports, Warmbier was savagely beaten by North Korean interrogators and then thrown into a solitary confinement cell.
While in prison, he endured torture, verbal abuse, and was kept in absolute darkness with little food or water. The guilt and trauma of his ordeal caused the coma-like state he entered upon his release.
What Happened to Warmbier in North Korea?
Although details of Warmbier’s time in North Korea remain scarce, it has been suspected that he was subjected to inhumane treatment during his imprisonment.
Reports suggest that Warmbier was savagely beaten while in captivity, which resulted in a severe brain injury that ultimately led to his coma-like state upon his release. Ultimately, Otto Warmbier died soon after due to the injuries sustained while imprisoned.
The circumstances surrounding Warmbier’s death are deeply troubling and it is still completely unknown why he was so brutally assaulted in North Korea.
Warmbier’s parents reported that their son was blind and barely conscious when they went to collect him upon his release. Although human rights organizations condemned the treatment of Otto Warmbier during his imprisonment, North Korean officials denied any mistreatment or abuse.
Regardless, Warmbier’s death brought attention to the violence and brutality inflicted on prisoners in North Korea and puts a face on the devastation these inhumane tactics inflict on innocent people.
The Return Home and Aftermath
Reports indicated that Otto had suffered a severe neurological injury as a result of his treatment while in captivity.
After 18 months in captivity, Otto Warmbier was medically evacuated from North Korea and returned home to the United States. Although he was reunited with his family, his health continued to deteriorate rapidly.
After a few days in the hospital, Otto Warmbier died at the age of 22 due to the catastrophic injuries he suffered while held as a prisoner in North Korea. His death provoked an international outcry and raised questions about human rights violations in the regime-controlled country.
After being returned to the United States, Otto’s family and doctors expressed outrage at North Korea for failing to care for him properly during his imprisonment.
Reports indicated that Otto had suffered a severe neurological injury as a result of his treatment, leaving him in an unconscious state until he ultimately passed away about one week after arriving back in the United States.
The Warmbier family pressed for justice and the US government imposed travel bans and other economic sanctions on North Korea afterwards.
While these measures have been taken to protect US citizens, more work needs to be done to ensure that this tragedy never repeats itself.
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