LISTEN LIVE KPR - On Air: Listen Live to classical, jazz and NPR news Schedule LATEST
KPR 2 - On Air: Listen live to KPR's all talk-radio service, KPR2 Recordings

Share this page              

N. Korea Sentences Virginia Student To 15 Years Of Prison, Hard Labor

Otto Frederick Warmbier, a 21-year-old American student, speaks during a news conference in Pyongyang on February 29.

What started out as a budget tour to Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, has stretched into an extended stay for 21-year old University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier. State media report that North Korea's highest court convicted Warmbier of subversion and sentenced him to 15 years of prison and hard labor.

The offense? According to an apparent confession, Warmbier tried to steal a propaganda poster from his hotel.

"North Korea's sentencing of Otto Warmbier to 15 years hard labor for a college-style prank is outrageous and shocking," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, in a statement. "Pyongyang should recognize this student's self-admitted mistake as a misdemeanor offense that it would be in most countries, release him on humanitarian grounds and send him home."

Warmbier was detained in early January while attempting to depart Pyongyang Sunan International Airport. North Korea did not make his detention public until February, as the United States was taking the lead in pushing for tough sanctions following the North's fourth nuclear test and long-range rocket launch.

It was unclear for several weeks following his detention what got Warmbier in trouble in North Korea. But on Feb. 29, the Ohio native was paraded in front of cameras and diplomats in Pyongyang, where he read a confession and public apology.

On camera, Warmbier said he stole the propaganda poster on behalf of a member of the Friendship United Methodist Church in Wyoming, Ohio, who wanted it "as a trophy." In exchange, he would receive a used car worth $10,000.

Video also showed Warmbier pleading for his release and breaking down in tears, calling the incident "the worst mistake of his life."

Previous American detainees have recanted their confessions following their release, saying they were made under duress and detailed how North Korean officials carefully orchestrate the events.

Warmbier is one of three North Americans known to be detained in North Korea. The U.S. has no embassy in Pyongyang, and its interests are represented by Sweden. The U.S. Embassy in Seoul directed questions about the incident to Washington.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit

Tower Frequencies

91.5 FM KANU Lawrence, Topeka, Kansas City
96.1 FM K241AR Lawrence (KPR2)
89.7 FM KANH Emporia
99.5 FM K258BT Manhattan
97.9 FM K250AY Manhattan (KPR2)
91.3 FM  KANV Junction City, Olsburg
89.9 FM K210CR Atchison
90.3 FM KANQ Chanute

See the Coverage Map for more details

Contact Us

Kansas Public Radio
1120 West 11th Street
Lawrence, KS 66044
Download Map
785-864-4530 (Main Line)
888-577-5268 (Toll Free)