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US student, freed from North Korea, was ‘brutalised’ by regime, says father

Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea. He has been in a coma since March 2016.

world Updated: Jun 15, 2017 22:55 IST
Reuters, Wyoming
Otto Warmbier,US,United States
Otto Frederick Warmbier , 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. (Reuters)

An American university student who was detained for 17 months in North Korea and suffered a serious neurological injury was “brutalised” by the reclusive regime, his father said on Thursday.

Despite the “severe” injury, Otto Warmbier, 22, is stable and receiving treatment at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, center spokeswoman Kelly Martin said at a news briefing at Warmbier’s high school in Wyoming, Ohio.

Doctors are scheduled to provide further details about Warmbier’s condition on Thursday afternoon.

Warmbier has been in a coma since March 2016, shortly after he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea, the family said on Tuesday after he was released.

He was arrested for trying to steal an item with a propaganda slogan, according to North Korean media.

The University of Virginia student was “brutalised and terrorised” by the North Korean regime, his father Fred Warmbier said at the news conference, two days after his son arrived in Ohio on a medical evacuation flight.

North Korea’s official KCNA news agency said in a one-line report on Thursday the student was “sent back home on June 13, 2017 on humanitarian grounds according to the adjudication made on the same day by the Central Court of the DPRK.”

Fred Warmbier said the family did not believe North Korea’s story, that his son had fallen into a coma after contracting botulism and being given a sleeping pill.

“We don’t believe anything they (North Korea) say,” said Fred Warmbier, who was wearing a sport coat that Otto Warmbier had worn during a confession to his crimes last year in North Korea that was broadcast.


Fred Warmbier said he was stunned when told of his son’s condition one week ago.

“Disbelief. Couldn’t sit down. I don’t know what being in shock is, but I’m pretty sure I was,” he said, referring to being informed Otto Warmbier was in a coma.

The New York Times previously cited a senior US official as saying Washington had received intelligence reports Warmbier was repeatedly beaten while in North Korean custody.

Fred Warmbier said of his son’s release: “They did not do this out of the kindness of their hearts.”

Ohio Senator Rob Portman called the North Korean government’s handling of Warmbier “abhorrent” in an interview with Fox News.

“Now we know why they wouldn’t allow consular access,” he said. “It’s a real tragedy.”

US President Donald Trump spoke to Fred Warmbier on Wednesday night, Warmbier said. Trump discussed how US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Joseph Yun, the US State Department’s special envoy on North Korea, worked together to help secure Otto’s release, Warmbier said.

Fred Warmbier praised the Trump administration’s handling of the situation. Asked if the administration of former President Barack Obama had done enough to secure their son’s release, Warmbier said: “The results speak for themselves.”

First Published: Jun 15, 2017 22:54 IST