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Monday 19 March 2018

North Korea jails US tourist for 15 years for propaganda poster theft

Jon Choljin

North Korea has sentenced a US tourist to 15 years in prison with hard labour after he tearfully admitted he had tried to steal a propaganda banner.

Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia undergraduate, was convicted and sentenced in a one-hour trial in North Korea's Supreme Court.

He was charged with subversion under Article 60 of North Korea's criminal code. The court said 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."

North Korea regularly accuses Washington and Seoul of sending spies to overthrow its government to enable the US-backed South Korean government to take control of the Korean Peninsula.

Before the trial, the 21-year-old from Wyoming, Ohio, said he had tried to steal a propaganda banner as a trophy for an acquaintance who wanted to hang it in her church. That would be grounds in North Korea for a subversion charge.

He said he was offered a used car worth $10,000 if he could get a banner and was also told that if he was detained and didn't return, $200,000 would be paid to his mother in the form of a charitable donation.

Mr Warmbier said he accepted the offer because his family was "suffering from very severe financial difficulties".

He also claimed he had been encouraged by the university's "Z Society", which he said he was trying to join.

Trials for foreigners facing similar charges in North Korea are generally short and punishments severe. Mr Warmbier was arrested as he tried to leave the country in early January. He was in North Korea with a New Year's tour group.

Irish Independent

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