American college student detained in North Korea has publicly confessed
to attempting to steal a political banner from a Pyongyang hotel.
Otto Warmbier appeared before a group of domestic and foreign
journalists Monday in the North Korean capital, accompanied by North
Korean guards. The 21-year-old University of Virginia student, who was
visiting North Korea with a tour group, was arrested last month before
boarding a plane out of the country. He has been charged with committing
a hostile act against the state, with the help of the United States.
"I understand the severity of my crime, and I have no idea what sort of
penalty I may face, but I am begging to the Korean people and government
for my forgiveness. And I am praying to the heavens so that I may be
returned home to my family,” he said during the statement.
Pyongyang has not said what possible punishment Warmbier may face.
North Korea has often detained Americans and other foreign citizens on
trumped up charges. The detainees are usually brought before foreign
journalists to read statements confessing to crimes committed against
the dictatorial regime. The statements are widely considered to have
been coerced, and detainees often recant their confessions after their
Analysts say Pyongyang often tries to use the detainees as bargaining
chips with the West.
Tour groups sponsor regular visits to the North for sightseers curious
to see what life is like under the repressive regime. The U.S. and
Canadian governments both advise against travel to North Korea.