– ‘Hostile acts’ –
Warmbier had initially been arrested in early January on charges of “hostile acts” against the state. KCNA said he was convicted under an article of the criminal code dealing with subversion.
“In the course of the inquiry, the accused confessed to the serious offence,” it said, without elaborating.
Warmbier was arrested as he was leaving the country with a tour group. He later said he had removed a political banner from the staff-only area of the Pyongyang hotel where the group had stayed.
The sentence was handed down just hours after veteran US diplomat Bill Richardson reportedly met two diplomats from North Korea’s UN office in New York to press for Warmbier’s release.
“I urged the humanitarian release of Otto, and they agreed to convey our request,” Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico, told the New York Times.
In the past, North Korea has used the detention of US citizens to obtain high-profile visits from the likes of former US presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton in order to secure their release.
Richardson has travelled to North Korea several times over the years on diplomatic missions that have included negotiating the freedom of arrested Americans.
The United States has no diplomatic or consular relations with the North. The Swedish embassy in Pyongyang provides limited consular services to US citizens detained there.
Warmbier is one of three North Americans currently detained in North Korea, which recently sentenced a 60-year-old Canadian pastor to life imprisonment with hard labour on sedition charges.
The US State Department “strongly recommends against all travel” to North Korea and specifically warns of the risk of arrest.