It has been a while since I have written a “You Be the Judge” article and I want you to be the judge for the recent arrest of a University of Virginia student in North Korea.
Otto Warmbier has just received a fifteen-year sentence to hard labor in North Korea for allegedly attempting to steal a banner with a North Korean political slogan on it. Warmbier allegedly took the banner from a part of the hotel that was restricted to employees only and tourists are not allowed.
Otto Warmbier went to North Korea to visit with a group called, Young Pioneer Tours, based in China. This group also has tours to Cuba, Iraq and other former Communist countries, much to the chagrin of the U.S. State Department. It is not illegal to travel to these countries and many people have gone to visit North Korea and have returned without incident. Young Pioneer Tours has also said that Otto Warmbier was the first foreigner arrested in North Korea, after taking more than 7.000 people there on a vacation.
Otto Warmbier has said that he was getting the banner for a friend in his church, who wanted the banner for a souvenir. Warmbier was promised a 10,000 dollar used car if he got the banner and the friend said that if he was detained or arrested, his mother would receive charitable donations in the amount of about 200,000 dollars. Warmbier has also stated that he was “encouraged” to take the banner by the Z Society. The Z Society is a “semi-secret ring society” that was formed in 1892 at the University of Virginia and are philanthropists that hold honorary dinners and grants awards for academic excellence.
Now it is time for you to be the judge. Otto Warmbier is being treated as a spy and was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. Do you think this punishment is too harsh for the crime? Do you think that North Korea is doing this to send a message to visiting peoples? In the past, North Korea has arrested people who made a public confession of their crimes but have recanted their confessions once they were released. Or is the North Korean government waiting for a US dignitary to show up and see about his release. It wouldn’t be the first time if this happens.
Former President Bill Clinton went to North Korea in 2009 to see about the release of American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee. They both entered North Korea illegally from China. Also, the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper went to North Korea in 2014 to secure the release of Matthew Miller, who had been detained because he ripped up his visa when he entered the country and to secure the release of an American missionary, Kenneth Bae, who had been detained since 2012.
Is this a political ploy or is the North Korean government right in treating Otto Warmbier as a spy?
You Be the Judge.