University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier, who was detained in North Korea for 17 months for alleged anti-state acts, has been released according to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday.
“At the direction of the President, the Department of State has secured the release of Otto Warmbier from North Korea,” Tillerson said in a statement seen by the Associated Press. “Mr. Warmbier is en route to the U.S. where he will be reunited with his family.” The parents of the 22-year-old said in a statement that their son was medically evacuated from North Korea and has been in a coma for more than a year. The news comes as American former basketball player Dennis Rodman lands in Pyongyang, for what is believed to be his fifth trip to North Korea.
In April, TIME published an indepth feature on Warmbier and his situation by reporter Nash Jenkins. The quotes below are taken from this story.
Who is Otto Warmbier?
Warmbier is the oldest of three children and grew up in a Cincinnati suburb of 8,000 people. Known for being a high achiever, Warmbier graduated as the salutatorian of Wyoming High School and is rumored to have received near-perfect scores in his college entrance exam.
He wanted to pursue a career in finance and took up a big workload while in the University of Virginia (UVA):
What was he doing in North Korea?
Warmbier, like thousands of Westerners who have visited North Korea over the years, was in the country for a 5-day holiday:
He was expected to land back in Beijing on Jan. 2, before participating in a 10-day tour, sponsored by UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce, of two Asian financial capitals: Hong Kong and then Singapore. But according to TIME, he never surfaced on social media or on the phone on Jan. 2.
Why was he arrested?
For allegedly committing a “hostile act” of stealing a political poster from a wall in his hotel in Pyongyang. He was detained at the airport as Warmbier attempted to leave the country on Jan. 2. Here’s more:
Three weeks after the incident, state news media announced that Wambier was arrested for “bringing down the foundation of its single-minded unity” and was attempting to bring down “the foundation of its single-minded unity [with] the tacit connivance of the U.S. government and under its manipulation.” Six weeks after that, Warmbier appeared on state news television where he pleaded for his release and admitted to his alleged crime.
Why was he held for so long?
Kim Jong Un has little interest in bargaining. Here’s more from Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson , who spoke to TIME in April:
Richardson welcomed Warmbier’s release on Tuesday, but expressed concern for the student’s wellbeing. “In no uncertain terms North Korea must explain the causes of his coma,” Richardson said in a statement seen by TIME. “My Center for Global Engagement has worked on behalf of the Warmbier family with the North Korean government directly, including a visit late last year to advance negotiations for his release, as well as with both the Obama and Trump administrations. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family as they continue to battle for Otto’s life.”
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