US student takes souvenir from NoKo hotel, charged with 'severe crimes'
A 21-year-old student from the University of Virginia was paraded before the press in North Korea yesterday following his arrest in January for stealing a banner with a propaganda slogan on it.
Otto Warmbier no doubt figured the banner would look great on the wall of his dorm room. Instead, he was arrested boarding a plane for home. He is charged with "perpetrating a hostile act against the DPRK (North Korea) at the tacit connivance of the US government and under its manipulation."
While addressing the media and members of Pyongyang's diplomatic community, 21-year-old Warmbier acknowledged and apologised for the alleged crime, which involved the theft of a political slogan from a staff-only section of the hotel where he had been staying.Previous foreign detainees in North Korea have said after their release that authorities there coached them in what to say at public appearances or put them under pressure to make apologies for their actions.
Former detainees often recant such admissions after their release.
A China-based tour operator specialising in trips to North Korea, Young Pioneer Tours, arranged Warmbier's trip to Pyongyang over New Year's Eve, and said that North Korean authorities stopped him boarding a flight back to Beijing on January 2.
Warmbier had been staying at the Yanggakdo International Hotel, a common place for tourists to stay.
What possesses Americans to go to North Korea in the first place? Probably the same impulse that drives them deep into the Amazon rainforest for those "eco tours." The amenities are crude, and there's plenty of danger. But still, people shell out thousands of dollars to experience what it's like to live in the rainforest.
I suspect that a similar urge drives Americans to travel to North Korea. The risk of being arrested while minding your own business is high enough. But to tempt fate by stealing a propaganda banner? Mr. Wambier pretty much got what he asked for.