Pin It
Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 09.59.55

US student given 15 years hard labour in a North Korean camp

21-year-old Otto Warmbier, a student at the University of Virginia, was sentenced for “crimes against the state” after he attempted to steal a sign from a hotel

Many of us will have, at some point, tried to steal something as a souvenir of a trip. Maybe it’s a traffic cone you drunkenly steal from a St Patrick’s Day celebration, or a Mickey Mouse mascot from Disneyworld. We’re conditioned to expect a slap on the wrist or even a fine if we get caught stealing – but the same rules don’t apply in North Korea. 

US finance student Otto Warmbier has just been sentenced to 15 years hard labour in a North Korean prison camp. His crime? Allegedly attempting to steal a propaganda sign from a hotel during a visit to North Korea on January 1 this year. Despite a tearful press conference in which Warmbier renounced his actions and made a heartfelt apology in which he “begged for assistance to save my life”, his words have fallen on deaf ears.

Warmbier’s sentence is considered to be excessive compared to other sentences given to foreigners in the past. In 2014, for example, Matthew Todd Miller was sentenced to only six years of forced labour for committing “acts hostile to the DPRK”. Warmbier has also been accused by the North Korean authorities of committing “hostile acts”. 

It looks possible that Warmbier’s lengthy sentence is a result of deteriorating relations between North Korea and the U.S.A. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un recently warned that the country was about to test long-range nuclear warheads, while joint US-South Korean military exercises have antagonised authorities in the North.

Warmbier’s sentence will come as a warning to any tourists still hoping to visit North Korea. Step out of line in any way – even for what may seem like the most minor infraction – and the authorities may well come down on you hard.