US student Otto Warmbier detained in North Korea appears on state media admitting to trying to steal propaganda

'I have no idea what sort of penalty I may face but I am begging to the Korean people and government for my forgiveness'

Ashley Cowburn
Monday 29 February 2016 14:51
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US student detained in North korea

An American student detained in North Korea since early January was arrested for attempting to steal propaganda from Pyongyang hotel, the regime’s official state media has said.

Appearing in a video Otto Warmbier, escorted by North Korean guards, read out a statement in which he confessed to “severe crimes” against the secretive state and begged for forgiveness. A second video posted by CNN shows the 21-year-old Virginia student on the verge of tears as he makes his plea.

Mr Warmbier was identified by the regime’s state-run KCNA news agency on January 1 as an American who was detained before boarding a flight to China. It said he entered North Korea as a tourist and was "was caught committing a hostile act against the state," which it said was "tolerated and manipulated by the U.S. government"

In the video the American student said: “On the early morning of January 1 2016 I committed my crime of taking out the important political slogan from the staff-only area of the Yanggakdo International hotel aimed at harming the work ethic and motivation of the Korean people.”

He added: “I have been very impressed by the Korean government’s humanitarian treatment of severe criminals like myself and of their very fair and square legal procedures in the DPR Korea.

“I understand the severity of my crime and I have no idea what sort of penalty I may face but I am begging to the Korean people and government for my forgiveness.”

Mr Warmbier's family have not heard from him since his arrest, according to a statement provided to the Cavalier Daily, the University of Virginia's student-run newspaper. "He seems to be in good health, although we won't know for sure about his condition until we have a chance to speak with him," the statement said.

The student was on a five-day New Year's tour of North Korea with a group of 20 and was delayed at immigration before being taken away by two airport officials, according to a tour operator that had sponsored the trip.

A few thousand Westerners are thought to visit North Korea each year, and Pyongyang is pushing for more tourists as a way to help its dismal economy. The U.S. State Department has warned against travel to the North, however, and visitors, especially those from America, who break the country's sometimes murky rules risk detention, arrest and possible jail sentences – although most have eventually been released.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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