Third-year Commerce school student and Theta Chi fraternity member Otto Frederick Warmbier is now detained in North Korea, according to the state-run Chosun Central News Agency’s report on the 22nd. According to the report, Warmbier is undergoing investigation under charges for “hostile act against the [North Korean] republic.” It also claimed that Warmbier entered North Korea disguised as a tourist to destroy the country’s unity with “the tacit connivance of the U.S. government and under its manipulation.” It did not, however, specify what kind of act was perpetrated or when he was arrested.
According to Warmbier’s travel agency Young Pioneer Tours based in Xian, China, Warmbier was arrested on January 2nd and the agency has contacted both his family and the Swedish Embassy in Pyeongyang that administrates American’s consul duties as a proxy.
State Department spokesperson John Kirby, who is currently visiting Switzerland for the World Economic Forum, said in his interview that he is aware of this incident and that the safety of Americans is the greatest concern of the department. But he refused to reveal any more information based on Warmbier’s privacy.
Warmbier is one of three foreigners currently under Pyeongyang’s custody. Last December, Korean-Canadian pastor Hyeonsoo Lim was convicted of “special crime to overthrow the State” and was sentenced to life imprisonment and hard labor. In a recent interview with CNN, Lim said that he is digging holes for apple trees eight hours a day, six days a week. On January 11th, it was reported that Korean-American Dongchul Kim was arrested on a similar charge.
North Korea’s intent in detaining Warmbier and other foreigners is relatively obvious based on previous cases and the Pyeongyang’s current position, according to Professor Mujin Yang at the University of North Korean Studies, Seoul. He stated on Friday that there is a high possibility that Pyeongyang might try to use these detainees to leverage their negotiation power against the international community and Washington after May’s Korean People’s Party Convention. North Korea is currently being condemned by the international community for its fourth nuclear test and may want a situation turnover by starting talks with South Korea and relevant western countries.
By Spencer Park, Staff Writer