A 21-year-old student, Otto Warmbier was sentenced last week to 15 years of hard labour for “propaganda” against the North Korean regime. His crime? “Stealing” a political propaganda poster from the hotel he was staying at in Pyongyang.
An extremely tearful and visibly fearful Warmbier apologized profusely before his sentencing, saying that he is “only human” and that he didn’t understand the seriousness of his actions.
A video was broadcast at the court in which he was sentenced, showing a shadowy figure remove the poster from the wall and walk away. Warmbier was on a tourist visa to the country and stayed at a hotel that was filled with foreign tourists, just like him. He was arrested at the airport while his fellow travelers who were visiting the country through Young Pioneer Tours, all made their way safely back to the United States.
In the dictatorship country of North Korea, it is a considered a crime to harm any object that contains the face or name of the leader. In this case, it was a poster printed with Kim Jong-il, the father of current leader Kim Jong-un. In his “confession”, which many believe he was coerced into saying, he stated: “I never, never should have allowed myself to be lured by the United States administration to commit a crime in this country, I wish that the United States administration never manipulate people like myself in the future to commit crimes against foreign countries. I entirely beg you, the people and government of the DPRK, for your forgiveness. Please! I made the worst mistake of my life!”
The United States government is infuriated with the sentencing, and believe that it was carried out so that the Asian country will get political leverage over the United States in the future. Many prime politicians have condemned the action taken by North Korea against a student, for an act that no one would think twice about in a country like the United States.
So, what does “hard labour” mean? What could be in store for Otto Warmbier? If you Google the sentencing, you will find that he would be facing an inhumane existence within the walls of North Korea’s prisons. He will apparently get only one set of clothes, without underwear and a few grams of rotting corn to eat. He will have to work for long hours throughout the day, sometimes up to 16 hours. There is hope, however, that he may be treated better than other prisoners who die by the age of 50, with rotting teeth, blackened gums and a hunched back, because he is a US citizen and the country doesn’t want the world to know the existence of such camps.