Published time: 13 Jun, 2017 15:40 Edited time: 13 Jun, 2017 15:47
North Korea has released a US college student who was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor after attempting to steal a propaganda poster from his Pyongyang hotel last year, US Secretary of State Tillerson confirmed. Warmbier is in a coma, his parents say.
“At the direction of the President, the Department of State has secured the release of Otto Warmbier from North Korea. Mr. Warmbier is en route to the United States, where he will be reunited with his family,” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s said in a statement.
Warmbier's parents have confirmed to AP that their son is in a coma.
The Washington Post earlier reported that he has been in a coma for more than a year, since shortly after his last public appearance at his trial in March 2016.
His parents were told that he contracted botulism, a form of food poisoning, soon after his trial. He then reportedly took a sleeping pill and never woke up, according to the Post.
Warmbier’s arrest was announced by North Korea in late January 2016, after he reportedly tried to steal a propaganda banner as a souvenir for a friend who wanted to hang it in her church.
Following a one-hour trial, Pyongyang charged Warmbier, a student at the University of Virginia, with “the tacit connivance of the US government and under its manipulation.” The American student was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
The Tuesday announcement came as former NBA player Dennis Rodman was in Pyongyang for a visit. Rodman, who has long been slammed for his unlikely friendship with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, said he believed US President Donald Trump would be “happy” with the fact he was “over here trying to accomplish something that we both need.”
Tillerson’s statement failed to mention Rodman’s visit, with the secretary of state saying no further comments would be made out of respect for Warmbier’s privacy.
Warmbier is due to arrive home in Cincinnati on Tuesday evening, after being evacuated through a US military base in Sapporo, Japan, according to the Post.