By: Charlotte Cheek ~Staff Writer~
A Cincinnati native and University of Virginia (UVA) student was detained by the North Korean government for committing a “hostile act” on January 2, 2016.
Otto Frederick Warmbier allegedly stole a political propaganda poster from a North Korean hotel while on a backpacking tour.
Warmbier was arrested in the Pyongyang airport while departing from North Korea. He was charged for theft of the political poster from the Yanggakdo International Hotel.
Warmbier allegedly stole the sign with the intent to give it to someone from his church, who promised to buy him a used car worth $10,000 in return.
He was sentenced to 15 years in a hard labor camp.
“I made the worst mistake of my life,” Warmbier said in court Feb 29. U.S. news sources have questioned the authenticity of Warmbier’s statement and speculated that his appearance was scripted.
The UN reported in 2014 that starvation, rape, torture, execution and disappearances take place in North Korean labor camps. They are well documented for their “unimaginable cruelties,” described as treating inmates like animals by a refugee who spoke with NBC News in 2014.
Warmbier was traveling with Young Pioneer Tours, a group that “provides budget tours to destinations your mother would rather you stayed away from,” according to its website.
The organization took approximately 100 Westerners to North Korea. Warmbier was the only one who did not safely return.
Ohio governor and Republican presidential candidate John Kasich spoke with North Korea, urging them to release Warmbier, whose family is currently working with the U.S. State Department.
Prior to his arrest, Warmbier was a junior studying economics. He was on the dean’s list and involved in extracurricular activities at UVA.
UVA has chosen to remain largely silent regarding the matter. The Cavalier Daily reported that university spokesperson Anthony de Bruyn stated, “The University is aware of the recent media reports regarding Otto Warmbier and remains in touch with his family.”
Many UVA students continue to express concern over the actions taken to provide Warmbier a safe return home. Concern for Warmbier’s well-being reaches far past his university, however. Fellow Cincinnati native Anna Shapiro weighed in on Warmbier’s arrest.
“We grew up in the same part of town and played soccer together when we were little. His siblings go to high school with my brother,” Shapiro, a Xavier student, said. “We were never close, and I didn’t know him all that well, but it is still strange to think that something like that can happen to someone you know, even someone you kind of know, because that means it could happen to you.”
Some are taking a less sympathetic opinion toward Warmbier’s arrest. Many commenters on popular news sites expressed a disdain toward Warmbier, claiming he deserves his punishment.
Jacob Levy, a Xavier graduate and former high school acquaintance of Warmbier, disagrees.
“The amount of people saying he deserved what happened to him is a source of stupendous frustration,” Levy said. “It seems sexual assault is not the only area in which victim blaming is in vogue these days.”
Warmbier is the 12th American to be detained by North Korea since 1996.