US tourists who stole North Korea propaganda banner sentenced to 15 years hard labour
Published 16/03/2016 | 06:53
North Korea's highest court has sentenced an American tourist who allegedly attempted to steal a propaganda banner from a restricted area of his hotel to 15 years of hard labour in prison.
Otto Warmbier, a 21-year-old University of Virginia undergraduate student, was convicted of subversion and sentenced in a one-hour trial at the Supreme Court.
Mr Warmbier was arrested in early January as he tried to leave the country after visiting as a tourist with a new year tour group.
In a statement before his trial, he told a gathering of reporters in Pyongyang he wanted the banner "as a trophy" for the mother of a friend.
North Korea announced the arrest in late January, saying Mr Warmbier committed an anti-state crime with "the tacit connivance of the US government and under its manipulation".
He had been staying at the Yanggakdo International Hotel, which is on an island in a river that runs through Pyongyang, the capital. It is common for sections of tourist hotels to be reserved for North Korean staff and off-limits to foreigners.
In his comments, Mr Warmbier said he was offered a used car worth 10,000 dollars by a member of the church for the banner. He said the church member told him the slogan would be hung on its wall as a trophy.
He also said he was told that if he was detained and did not return, 200,000 dollars would be paid to his mother in the form of a charitable donation.
Mr Warmbier, from Wyoming, Ohio, said he accepted the offer of money because his family is "suffering from very severe financial difficulties".
In previous cases, people who have been detained in North Korea and made a public confession often recant those statements after their release.
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.
US tourism to North Korea is legal, but the US State Department strongly advises against it.