Otto Warmbier returned from North Korea in a coma. Medical professionals described it as a “state of unresponsive wakefulness.” Whatever they called it, Warmbier’s family knew that something was dreadfully wrong with their once bright and intellectually curious 22 year-old son.
Less than a week after coming home, Otto died due to the abuse he endured in North Korea.
In December 2015, on his way to study abroad in Hong Kong, Otto took a brief trip to North Korea. When Otto passed through security at the airport for his departure, he was stopped, taken into another room and interrogated by North Korean officials who refused to permit him to board the plane.
In a sham trial, Warmbier was forced to confess to taking a propaganda poster. Convicted of crimes against the state, he was sentenced to 15 years hard labor.
As Joshua Stanton, a well-known Korea watcher at One Free Korea put it:
… [W]hatever happened to Mr. Warmbier happened to him at a time when he was held without legitimate justification. Even allowing for differences of culture and government, there is no system of justice in which vandalizing a poster (if Mr. Warmbier did that) warrants two months in jail, much less a year and a half, much less a 15-year sentence to hard labor.
It is unclear what led Warmbier to fall into the vegetative state in which he returned home. The North Koreans claim that he suffered a bout of botulism, took a sleeping pill, and never awoke. However, medical professionals at University of Cincinnati Medical Center observed no symptoms of botulism and deny that botulism could have caused Warmbier to enter a coma.
One thing is clear: the North Korean authorities knew that Warmbier was unwell and failed to return him in a timely manner to his family in the United States.
The unjust treatment of Otto Warmbier – from his initial detention, to his sentencing and subsequent poor medical treatment – is reflective of the brutality of the Kim regime. Warmbier is far from the first American (or foreigner, for that matter) detained in North Korea. In fact, Kim’s brutal regime still holds three Americans captive today.
This piece originally appeared in Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/oliviaenos/2017/06/20/u-s-should-get-tough-on-north-korea-after-death-of-otto-warmbier/#391148af2f87