North Korea’s highest court has sentenced US student Otto Warmbier to 15 years’ hard labour.
Warmbier, a 21-year-old University of Virginia undergraduate student, was convicted and sentenced in a one-hour trial on Wednesday morning at the North’s supreme court. He was charged with subversion.
He was arrested as he prepared to leave Pyongyang in January. Last month he was paraded in front of the media as North Korea announced it was charging him with the theft of a political banner.
During the press conference he broke down, acknowledging and apologising for the supposed crime.
According to Warmbier’s statement, he took the banner with a political slogan on it as a trophy for a church member, who was the mother of a friend.
In previous cases, people who have been detained in North Korea and given a public confession often recant those admissions after their release.
After footage of Warmbier the stage-managed “confession” was released, the US accused the North Korean regime of using him for propaganda purposes.
In the past, the regime has used detainees as leverage to secure visits by high-profile US politicians, including former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.
Warmbier was arrested while visiting the country with Young Pioneer Tours, an agency specialising in travel to North Korea, which is strongly discouraged by the US state department. He had been staying at the Yanggakdo International hotel, which is located on an island in a river that runs through Pyongyang.
North Korea regularly accuses Washington and Seoul of sending spies to overthrow its government to enable the US-backed South Korean government to control the Korean Peninsula. Some foreigners previously arrested in the North have read statements of guilt that they later said were coerced.