Before his trial, Warmbier had said he tried to steal a propaganda banner as a trophy for an acquaintance
In this Feb. 29, 2016, file photo, U.S. student Otto Warmbier speaks as Warmbier is presented to reporters in Pyongyang, North Korea. photo: AP/Kim Kwang Hyon, File, photo: AP/Kim Kwang Hyon, File
13 of June 2017 13:38:18
WASHINGTON – North Korea has released a U.S. college student who was serving a 15-year prison term with hard labor for alleged anti-state acts, U.S. and North Korean officials said Tuesday. Otto Warmbier's parents said he was in a coma and being medically evacuated.The announcement on Warmbier's release came as former NBA player Dennis Rodman was paying a return visit to Pyongyang. Rodman is one of few people to have met both North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump. But Rodman said the issue of several U.S. citizens detained by North Korea is "not my purpose right now."Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that the State Department had secured Warmbier's release at the direction of the president. He said Warmbier, 22, of Cincinnati, Ohio, was en route to the U.S. where he will be reunited with his family. Tillerson made no mention of Rodman's visit, and said the department would have no further comment on Warmbier and his condition, citing privacy concerns.https://youtu.be/0JTnKPL6LtYFred and Cindy Warmbier said in a statement to a news agency that their son is in a coma and flying home. They said they have been told their son has been in a coma since March 2016 — when he was last seen in public, at his trial — and they had learned of this only one week ago."We want the world to know how we and our son have been brutalized and terrorized by the pariah regime" in North Korea, they said. "We are so grateful that he will finally be with people who love him."A North Korean foreign ministry official said Warmbier was released and left the country Tuesday morning.The official, who spoke to the news agency on condition of anonymity because no formal statement had been released, said he could not provide further details.It was not immediately clear if Rodman's visit to North Korea was purely coincidental with Warmbier's release. Rodman has traveled to the isolated nation four times previously. It is, however, his first trip since Trump, his former "Celebrity Apprentice" boss, became president. He told reporters in Beijing, as he departed for Pyongyang, that he hopes his trip will "open a door" for Trump.Tillerson said that the State Department is continuing "to have discussions" with North Korea about the release of other three U.S. citizens who are jailed there.Warmbier, 22, a University of Virginia undergraduate, was convicted and sentenced in a one-hour trial in North Korea's Supreme Court in March 2016. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labor for subversion as he tearfully confessed that he had tried to steal a propaganda banner.The U.S. government condemned the sentence and accused North Korea of using such U.S. detainees as political pawns.The North Korean court held that Warmbier had committed a crime "pursuant to the U.S. 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 U.S.-backed South Korean government to take control of the Korean Peninsula.Before his trial, Warmbier had said he 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 identified the church as Friendship United Methodist Church.
MATTHEW LEEMATTHEW PENNINGTON