American student was returned to the U.S. in a coma last week
Otto Warmbier, an American college student who spent 17 months in detention in North Korea and was released in a comatose state last week, died Monday afternoon. He was 22.
The family announced his death in a statement released by UC Health Systems in Cincinnati, saying, "It is our sad duty to report that our son, Otto Warmbier, has completed his journey home. Surrounded by his loving family, Otto died today at 2:20 p.m."
Otto Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labour for trying to steal a propaganda banner. (Kyodo/Reuters)
The family thanked the University of Cincinnati Medical Centre for treating him, but said, "Unfortunately, the awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans ensured that no other outcome was possible beyond the sad one we experienced today."
They said they were choosing to focus on the time they were given with their "warm, engaging, brilliant" son instead of focusing on what they had lost.
Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labour in North Korea, convicted of subversion after he tearfully confessed he had tried to steal a propaganda banner from a hotel. He was in the country as part of a New Year's tour group and was arrested as he tried to leave the country.
The University of Virginia student was held for more than 17 months and returned to the U.S. from North Korea last week. Doctors said he had severe brain damage, but it wasn't clear what caused it.
Parents Fred and Cindy Warmbier told The Associated Press in a statement the day of his release that they wanted "the world to know how we and our son have been brutalized and terrorized by the pariah regime" and expressed relief he had been returned to "finally be with people who love him."
Ohio's senators sharply criticized North Korea soon after his release.
Republican Senator Rob Portman of the Cincinnati area said North Korea should be "universally condemned for its abhorrent behaviour." Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Cleveland said the country's "despicable actions ... must be condemned." Portman added that the Warmbiers have "had to endure more than any family should have to bear."
Three Americans are still being held in North Korea. The U.S. government accuses North Korea of using detainees as political pawns. North Korea accuses Washington and South Korea of sending spies to overthrow its government.
At the time of Warmbier's release, a White House official said Joseph Yun, the U.S. envoy on North Korea, had met with North Korean foreign ministry representatives in Norway the previous month. Such direct consultations between the two governments are rare because they don't have formal diplomatic relations.
At the meeting, North Korea agreed that Swedish diplomats could visit all four American detainees. A diplomat visited Warmbier on June 12 with two doctors and demanded his release on humanitarian grounds.