AP

Otto Warmbier, a 21-year-old University of Virginia student arrested in North Korea earlier this year, has been sentenced by a court to 15 years of hard labor for subversion, The Associated Press reports.

The student was visiting North Korea in January as part of an organized tour, and was arrested on his way out of the country after allegedly trying to steal a sign from the hotel he stayed at during his trip.

Advertisement

Last month, he made a public confession in front of North Korean state-owned media, claiming that someone at a church in his native Ohio had put him up to stealing the banner, and that a club at the University of Virginia, the "Z Society," had encouraged him. CNN had this video of Warmbier's confession—in previous cases, people who have made confessions while in North Korean custody have later recanted:

The AP reports that the court, in deciding his sentence, said his crime was in line with U.S. hostility toward North Korea, "pursuant to the U.S. government's hostile policy toward (the North), in a bid to impair the unity of its people after entering it as a tourist."

Advertisement

In the past, diplomatic officials have had to personally visit the country to secure the release of Americans arrested in North Korea. Americans are not allowed to visit the country unless they are with an approved tour guide operator.

The lack of transparency of the judicial system and the wider human rights climate in North Korea have been severely criticized internationally. "North Korea's sentencing of Otto Warmbier to 15 years hard labour for a college-style prank is outrageous and shocking," Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, told the BBC.