US calls for North Korea to release American student

US State Department asks North Korea to release American student jailed for 15 years over stealing propaganda banner from hotel

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

University of Virginia student who has been detained in North Korea since early January, attends a new conference in Pyongyang, North Korea, on February 29, 2016.

Updated Mar 17, 2016

North Korea's sentencing of American student Otto Warmbier to 15 years in prison for taking an item with a propaganda slogan from his hotel was "unduly harsh," the US State Department said on Wednesday as it called for his immediate release.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner urged Pyongyang to pardon Warmbier, grant him amnesty and release him immediately on humanitarian grounds. He also discouraged all US citizens from travelling to North Korea.

North Korea's supreme court sentenced an American student to 15 years hard labour for crimes against the state, China’s Xinhua news agency reported on Wednesday.

Otto Warmbier, an undergrad student at University of Virginia, said he had tried to steal a propaganda banner as a trophy for an acquaintance who wanted to hang it in her church.

Otto said he was offered a car worth $10,000 if he could get a banner and if he was detained $200,000 would be paid to his mother.

He also said that he had been encouraged by the university's "Z Society,"  a "semi-secret ring society" which he was trying to join.

The act is considered as subversion in the communist state.

Warmbier, 21, had confessed crimes against the state, he told a media conference in Pyongyang last month that his crime "is very severe and pre-planned."

The court held that he had committed a crime "pursuant to the US government's hostile policy toward [the North], in a bid to impair the unity of its people after entering it as a tourist."

TRTWorld, Reuters