The US has asked North Korea to immediately release its national, who was jailed for 15 years with hard labor for subversive activities after stealing a propaganda banner, and accused the nation of using imprisoned Americans as “pawns to pursue a political agenda”.
Otto Warmbier, a student at the University of Virginia, was arrested in North Korea in early January on charges of “hostile acts” against the state, according to the country’s official news agency KCNA.
He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labour on Wednesday.
The White House asked the North Korean regime to pardon Warmbier.
“Now that Mr Warmbier has gone through this criminal process, we strongly urge the North Korean government to pardon him and grant him special amnesty and immediate release,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said.
“Warmbier was reportedly sentenced to 15 years of hard labour, the allegations for which this individual was arrested and imprisoned would not give rise to arrest or imprisonment in the United States, or in just about any other country in the world,” he said.
Warmbier was convicted under an article of the criminal code dealing with subversion, KCNA said.
“In the course of the inquiry, the accused confessed to the serious offence,” it said, without elaborating.
The White House accused North Korea of using US citizens for furthering its political agenda.
“Now, despite official claims that US citizens arrested in North Korea are not used for political purposes, it is increasingly clear that the North Korean government seeks to use these US citizens as pawns to pursue a political agenda.
“This underscores the risks associated with travelling to North Korea. And the Department of State strongly recommends against all travel by US citizens to North Korea,” Earnest said.
New US sanctions
President Barack Obama imposed sweeping new sanctions on North Korea on Wednesday intended to further isolate the country’s leadership after recent actions by Pyongyang that have been seen by Washington and its allies as provocative, Reuters reported.
The executive order freezes any property of the North Korean government in the United States and prohibits exportation of goods from the United States to North Korea.
It also allows the U.S. government to blacklist any individuals, whether or not they are U.S. citizens, who deal with major sectors of North Korea’s economy. Experts said the measures vastly expanded the U.S. blockade against Pyongyang.
“The U.S. and the global community will not tolerate North Korea’s illicit nuclear and ballistic missile activities, and we will continue to impose costs on North Korea until it comes into compliance with its international obligations,” Earnest said.