N. Korea sentences US student to 15 years of hard labor

U.S. Student Sentenced to 15 Years Hard Labor in North Korea

SEOUL (Reuters) -- North Korea's supreme court sentenced American student Otto Warmbier, who was arrested while visiting the country, to 15 years of hard labor on Wednesday for crimes against the state.

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Warmbier, a 21-year-old University of Virginia student, was detained in January for trying to steal an item bearing a propaganda slogan from his hotel in Pyongyang, North Korean media said previously.

"The accused confessed to the serious offense against the DPRK he had committed, pursuant to the U.S. government's hostile policy toward it, in a bid to impair the unity of its people after entering it as a tourist," the state-controlled KCNA news agency reported, using the acronym for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Human Rights Watch condemned the sentence handed down to the student from Wyoming, Ohio. Japan's Kyodo news agency published a picture of Warmbier being led from the courtroom by two uniformed guards, with his head bowed, but visibly distressed.

See photos of the American student:

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Otto Warmbier, North Korea sentences US student to 15 years of hard labor
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N. Korea sentences US student to 15 years of hard labor
Otto Frederick Warmbier (C), a University of Virginia student who was detained in North Korea since early January, is taken to North Korea's top court in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo March 16, 2016. North Korea's supreme court sentenced American student Warmbier, who was arrested while visiting the country, to 15 years of hard labour for crimes against the state, China's Xinhua news agency reported on Wednesday. Mandatory credit REUTERS/Kyodo Mandatory credit REUTERS/Kyodo ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN JAPAN. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. student Otto Warmbier speaks at a news conference in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang February 29, 2016. The U.S. student held in North Korea since early January was detained for trying to steal an item bearing a propaganda slogan from his Pyongyang hotel and has confessed to "severe crimes" against the state, the North's official media said on Monday. REUTERS/KCNA ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.
U.S. student Otto Warmbier bows at a news conference in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang February 29, 2016. The U.S. student held in North Korea since early January was detained for trying to steal an item bearing a propaganda slogan from his Pyongyang hotel and has confessed to "severe crimes" against the state, the North's official media said on Monday. REUTERS/KCNA ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.
U.S. student Otto Warmbier speaks at North Korea's top court, in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on March 16, 2016. North Korea's supreme court sentenced Warmbier, a 21-year-old University of Virginia student, who was arrested while visiting the country, to 15 years of hard labour on Wednesday for crimes against the state. REUTERS/KCNA ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS.
Otto Frederick Warmbier, a University of Virginia student who has been detained in North Korea since early January, attends a news conference in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo February 29, 2016. Warmbier was detained for trying to steal a propaganda slogan from his Pyongyang hotel and has confessed to "severe crimes" against the state, the North's official media said on Monday. Warmbier, 21, was detained before boarding his flight to China over an unspecified incident at his hotel, his tour agency told Reuters in January. Mandatory credit REUTERS/Kyodo ATTENTION EDITORS - FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN JAPAN.
U.S. student Otto Warmbier has his fingerprints taken at North Korea's top court, in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on March 16, 2016. North Korea's supreme court sentenced Warmbier, a 21-year-old University of Virginia student, who was arrested while visiting the country, to 15 years of hard labour on Wednesday for crimes against the state. REUTERS/KCNA ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS.
Otto Frederick Warmbier (C), a University of Virginia student who was detained in North Korea since early January, is taken out of North Korea's top court after being sentenced, in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo March 16, 2016. North Korea's supreme court sentenced American student Warmbier, who was arrested while visiting the country, to 15 years of hard labour for crimes against the state, China's Xinhua news agency reported on Wednesday. Mandatory credit REUTERS/Kyodo ATTENTION EDITORS - FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN JAPAN. THIS IMAGE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY, AN UNPROCESSED VERSION WILL BE PROVIDED SEPARATELY.
U.S. student Otto Warmbier reacts at a news conference in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang February 29, 2016. The U.S. student held in North Korea since early January was detained for trying to steal an item bearing a propaganda slogan from his Pyongyang hotel and has confessed to "severe crimes" against the state, the North's official media said on Monday. REUTERS/KCNA ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
WYOMING, OHIO - APRIL 26: Fred and Cindy Warmbier stand in their home. Their son, Otto Warmbier, is incarcerated in North Korea after having been convicted and sentenced to 15 years' hard labor for 'hostile acts against the DPRK'. (Photo Maddie McGarvey/For the Washington Post)
Charlottesville VA - May 20: Emmett Saulnier of Cincinnati celebrates graduation at the University of Virginia, Sat. May 20, 2017 while remembering his friend Otto Warmbier who is being detained in North Korea following a trip there in January 2016. (Photo by Norm Shafer/ For The Washington Post via Getty Images).
Charlottesville VA - May 20: Dan Matson of Ashburn, Va., Ned Ende of Richmond, Va. and Tyler Rihn of Leesburg, Va. celebrate graduation at the University of Virginia, Sat. May 20, 2017 while remembering their friend Otto Warmbier who is being detained in North Korea following a trip there in January 2016. (Photo by Norm Shafer/ For The Washington Post via Getty Images).
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"North Korea's sentencing of Otto Warmbier to 15 years hard labor for a college-style prank is outrageous and shocking, and should not be permitted to stand," Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW's Asia division, said in an emailed statement.

Warmbier's defense attorney said the gravity of his crime was such that he would not be able to pay even with his death but proposed to the court a sentence that is reduced from the prosecution's request of a life sentence, KCNA said.

Last month, Warmbier told a media conference in Pyongyang that his crime was "very severe and pre-planned."

He was at the end of a five-day New Year's group tour of North Korea when he was delayed at airport immigration before being taken away by officials, according to the tour operator that had arranged the trip.

Warmbier's sentencing comes as North Korea is increasingly isolated, with the U.N. Security Council imposing tough new resolutions earlier this month following the North's January nuclear test and last month's long-range rocket launch.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this week said the North would soon test a nuclear warhead and ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, in what would be a direct violation of U.N. resolutions backed by its chief ally, China.

North Korea has a long history of detaining foreigners and has used jailed Americans in the past to extract high-profile visits from the United States, with which it has no formal diplomatic relations.

North Korea is also holding a Korean-Canadian Christian pastor it sentenced to hard labor for life in December for subversion. The North is also holding a Korean American and three South Korean nationals.

It has previously handed down lengthy sentences to foreigners before freeing them.

In 2014, North Korea released three detained Americans.

Former Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, who had previously traveled to North Korea, met the North's ambassador to the United Nations on Tuesday to press for the release of Warmbier, the New York Times reported.

"I urged the humanitarian release of Otto, and they agreed to convey our request," Richardson was quoted as saying.

While most tourists to North Korea are from China, roughly 6,000 Westerners visit annually, though the United States and Canada advise against it. Most visitors are curious about life in the reclusive state and ignore critics who say their dollars prop up a repressive regime.

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