American Jailed In North Korea Returns To The US In A Coma

Filed Under: Travel

Well here’s an unfortunate update to what was already a very sad story…

Last March I posted about a 21 year old University of Virginia student who was being detained in North Korea. He had traveled to North Korea over New Years, and was accused of trying to steal a North Korean banner from the hotel he was staying at.

North Korea accused him of committing a “hostile act” on behalf of a church, a secretive university organization, and the CIA. Within a couple of weeks he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea, as he “confessed to the serious offense against the DPRK he had committed, pursuant to the U.S. government’s hostile policy toward it, in a bid to impair the unity of its people after entering it as a tourist.”

I hadn’t seen any update on this situation for a while, until now (which isn’t surprising, given that the only news that typically comes out of North Korea is what they want us to know). After more than 17 months in North Korean captivity, Otto Warmbier has returned to the US in a coma, which he has apparently been in for over a year. According to CNN:

His return to the US comes as questions swirl about his health and what happened to him while he was detained by the North Korean government. The 22-year-old contracted botulism last year and is in “bad shape,” a source close to the family told CNN. North Korea told a US official that Warmbier contracted botulism and slipped into the coma after taking a sleeping pill, a senior State Department official told CNN.

“Otto has left North Korea. He is on Medivac flight on his way home. Sadly, he is in a coma and we have been told he has been in that condition since March of 2016. We learned of this only one week ago,” said Fred and Cindy Warmbier in a statement.

Man oh man… here’s to hoping he’s able to recover from this. It’s sad — though not surprising — that they’d let him be in a coma for over a year, presumably without giving him the care he needed.

People often ask me where my “line” is when it comes to where I’ll travel to. As much as I’m fascinated by the country, I think my line is right at North Korea.

  1. It’s very sad, hopefully he’ll be ok as you say. In any case, it would be pointless you travelling there as you would probably not be free to take the usual photos you do — “interesting” (to some extent) though the country may be.

  2. I don’t understand this worldwide fetishization of North Korea. It’s honestly not that fascinating to see, especially when all you’re going to be allowed to see is what’s already posted online. Go somewhere nice instead.

  3. Whilst this is sad, this also happens in other countries run by harsh regimes, such as the middle east, china etc, where you often go

  4. I tend to avoid places where tourists get arrested and held indefinitely to be in a prisoner exchange some day a few years down the road. (Here the guy’s in a coma for over a year before they bother to mention it?) My “line” is that I am ready to go to a country when it is ready to let me visit without handlers and controlled itineraries. I waited to go to Russia, to China, to Cuba until I could do it on my own terms.

  5. Sadly, being american itself is dangerous when entering north korea, for whatever reason. But he got guts. Respect! Tough maybe the price is very expensive…..

  6. @DaveS, China and Russia still have restrictions on free speech, if you criticise the government in any way, you’ll be imprisoned

  7. But if you use your German passport to enter DPRK, at least you know there’s a German embassy in Pyongyang.
    Hmmmm I wonder what their transit rules are. Is it possible to simply transit through Pyongyang to review Air Koryo?
    Also, there’s a really cool DPRK Aviation tour in September 2017 headed by Sam Chui during the Wonsan Air Festival. I’d go with other aviation enthusiasts!!!

  8. @DaveS Why would you need a handler or an itinerary for Cuba? Or for Russia? Lucky himself has posted about his travel experiences in both countries. I was in Cuba myself and there is no restriction as to how and where you can move. So why the prejudice?

  9. @n is the type of person to complain at a vegan festival because it doesn’t serve carnivores.

    @Marina, the guy said that he waited until it was possible to travel on one’s own terms, implying that it wasn’t possible in the past, which it wasn’t. With an American passport, I’m pretty sure going to Russia, China, or Cuba wasn’t so easy at some point in the past.

  10. I went to NK in April 2013, actually with the same tour company that this guy did. It’s a fascinating place. However, just like any country, if you obey the laws, you’ll be fine. Obviously the punishment doesn’t fit the crime here, but this guy is an idiot.

  11. I sympathize more for his relatives, who care about him but probably had no actual decision-making input into his trip into the DPRK. The man himself, although tragic in his current predicament, most likely signed up and took the trip of his own volition – in the end, he has to accept some responsibility for the outcome.

  12. People are tortured to death in Middle Eastern prisons regularly, too. As well as kept as slaves for abusive Arab masters. We don’t hear much about this, Ben.

  13. It’s probably a wise decision for you not to travel to North Korea – if they do that to a guy who just tries to souvenir a flag, you can only imagine what they might do to you for using a female toilet 🙂

  14. I don’t doubt that its a fascinating country, and i would love to see it, but its high time, really HIGH TIME, Americans take the North Koreans seriously and just stay away from that border or anywhere near that border. I don’t care how much humanitarian work they want to do, just do it somewhere else. Unfortunately, there are many safer troubled spots that can benefit from volunteers and good doers. Its time to just stay the hell away from North Korea, until some normalcy returns there. American should know better by now. Having said all that, i wish his family the strength to get through this difficult time period.

  15. @betterbub, why be nasty? I was just making a point about Ben drawing the line at North Korea, but there’s human rights abuse all over the place and he still goes to those countries.

  16. Well I say serves himself right – are we getting all the facts here ?
    Start playing by the rules or pay the price , I have no empathy to this typical YGen tvtd style behavior – bring back the cane ! His relatives will most probably be bankrupted as a result deservedly so for fancy breeding something like This into the world … slipping into a coma because you took a ambient is hardly the fault of PRNK !

  17. Terribly sad. I had no idea he was in such bad shape. He was at fault for sure going into a lion’s den and acting foolish. There is an American man who may have been captured and taken there to be the English teacher to the leader. Maybe you could post about it to get the word out to more people. I know his brother. Sneddon/North Korea

  18. So what exactly does this “news” story have to do with this blog? Other than Lucky’s evident racist fetish and fascination with mocking Asian countries and Asian people? Did this guy fly into North Korea using points?

  19. @Marina, I did go to Russia, China and Cuba and in each case traveled independently, which you can now do. They are not democracies. That’s not where I draw the line. I do draw the line at a controlled propaganda experience, which, fortunately, is no longer the case in those places.

  20. Why all the negative comments about traveling to the DPRK? I was there last year for 24 days and traveled to 8 of their 9 provinces. We traveled primarily by bus and saw much of the countryside. I was able to take videos from the front of the bus almost all of the time. It is a fascinating place and well worth a visit. Even the food was quite good. It amazes me that no one complains about traveling to the West where a good percentage of taxes go directly to fighting wars around the world. The DPRK is not fighting anyone.

    As for the student, it is a shame he is sick but he did commit a crime. The DPRK guides explained that they had video footage of him attempting to steal a poster. Many may think the crime does not justify the sentence but the same can be said for many drug related crimes. Imagine being in jail in the US for a marijuana offence when it is legal in the state next door.

  21. To Alan,
    Yes, I also wish we in the US could be like Switzerland or Germany, Netherlands……but we inherited the responsibility after WW II after England
    fell as a world leader.
    Now if we didn’t keep the sea lanes open there would be no world trade.
    China and others would claim the sea lanes are their property.
    Germany doesn’t pay their fair share for defense. BTW, 2% is not even a drop.
    I wish we could build up our infrastructure like Germany. We built up Germany and France after WW II and gave their country back to them. They send soldiers to Turkey and let us pay the bill for their defense against Russia ? What is that?
    Oh, that’s right, Americans are stupid.
    Russia should build up Ukraine…..and give the country back to the Ukrainians.
    But Russia is a dictatorship and power corrupts. Hope Navalny wins the election next year in Russia.
    And btw, the Swiss have many laws and rules for behavior. Alan, don’t be alarmed about state laws. If you spit on the ground in rich, modern Singapore you are fined. They even have public caning for bad behavior…in Singapore !
    Most readers here are living better than kings did 100 years ago, Ok, maybe 200
    years ago.
    Freedom is not free. Somebody paid the ultimate price for all of us.
    Remember that this July 4th.

  22. “Why all the negative comments about traveling to the DPRK?”

    Because it’s a country of prison and slave labor where humanity is all but denied to everyone except the top 1%. Because they have institutionalized money launderers, weapons dealers, and drug dealers in their “regime” to earn the government hard currency. Because the fat little creep in charge decaptitates even his own relatives working for him. Sorry if you’re blind as a bat (or simply a naive stooge for their murderous regime). The fat little crook in charge got that way because he inherited the job from his criminal daddy, who in turn inherited it from his godlike daddy.

    People: just don’t go. Have a conscience and don’t give that insane system even a cent of money.

  23. @James Henson

    “Russia should build up Ukraine…..and give the country back to the Ukrainians”

    Can’t tell if this is sarcasm or a mistake! Despite ongoing pressure from Russia, including the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, Ukraine has been an independent Country since 1991

  24. @James Henson

    Your entire comment is like an unsharpened pencil. No point. Can’t even understand how the comment was a response to @Alan’s comment.

    I feel like the American view of North Korea is on some kind of extreme on a scale. On one side there are the conspiracists that say “North Korea is just as bad as the UAE!” which is totally absurd, but the other side seems to think that North Korea is a black hole where people never escape from. Tons of people safely visit North Korea every year, but it’s still dangerous. How about we stop creating armchair political policies and feel sorry for the guy?

  25. Last I checked, idiots are not admitted to University of Virginia. No one will know the “real
    story” here since it will never be told. Otto is in a coma and it does not sound promising he will be able to recount much of anything. Is he really on tape stealing a poster — we will never know.
    Have a little sympathy for the family that raised him and think once in a while: There but for the grace of God go I.
    I along with Lucky draw the line at North Korea and so should we all!!!

  26. The video of his stealing a poster was on DPRK television. This is not a case of us not knowing what happened. I was somewhat apprehensive about visiting the DPRK after seeing his arrest (I already had a reserved a trip at that point) but I learned this was a very uncommon occurrence so I decided to proceed and I can only recommend that others do the same. The country is truly fascinating.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *