Otto Warmbier Dies After Being Released from North Korea Prison

By Jack Rendler

Amnesty International USA expresses our profound sadness and concern on the death of U.S. citizen Otto Warmbier at the age of 22.

In 2015, Mr. Warmbier was traveling in China when he signed up for a five-day tour of North Korea, operated by Young Pioneer Tours. During the tour, Mr. Warmbier took a propaganda poster down from the wall of his hotel, apparently intending to bring it home as a souvenir.

As he was leaving Pyongyang, he was detained by North Korean internal security officers. He was charged with committing a “hostile act” against the government of North Korea. Two months later, in a trial that lasted all of one hour, Mr. Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years hard labor.

His parents, who live near Cincinnati, had no word of their son until two weeks ago when Mr. Warmbier was released from prison, in a coma. On June 19, he died.

Amnesty International researchers have observed that:

· Otto Warmbier’s sentencing and imprisonment were imposed without fair trial in the first place, which itself is a human rights violation.

· The illness and death of Mr. Warmbier raise serious questions of whether the North Korean government met its obligation to afford him prompt medical assistance, including specialized treatment and transfer to a specialized institution as required.

· The fact that the Warmbier family only found out about his health condition last month, when the North Korean government claimed that he has been in this condition for more than a year, is extremely troubling. This violates international standards of the treatment of prisoners.

· Under international standards, prisoners and their representatives have a right to a prisoner’s medical files, which should be handed over with the prisoner in case of any transfer.

While Amnesty International does not yet know for certain the exact cause of Mr. Warmbier’s death, his injuries are consistent with the experience of thousands of former North Korean political prisoners. We feel that it makes Mr. Warmbier’s death no less tragic to observe that every North Korean lives each day knowing that the slightest deviation from Pyongyang’s expectations could result in arbitrary detention without trial, life-long imprisonment in a prison camp, torture, or execution.

Over the last 20 years, 16 U.S. citizens have been arrested by the DPRK; three are still in custody. Currently there is also one Canadian citizen imprisoned. Over the same time period, hundreds of thousands of North Korean citizens have been held in a vast system of labor camps for doing nothing more than allegedly deviating from Pyongyang’s insistence on absolute loyalty to the Kim family dynasty.

Amnesty International will not cease its work on human rights in North Korea, until the perpetrators of these crimes have been brought to justice.

To join this effort, please participate in this urgent action on behalf of imprisoned Canadian Pastor Lim Hyeon-soo. Thank you.

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We've been fighting the bad guys since 1961 - you can join us! Official Amnesty International USA profile.