– ‘College prank’ –
Human Rights Watch said the severe sentence was shocking given that Warmbier’s alleged offence amounted to little more than a “college-style prank”.
“Pyongyang should recognise this student’s self-admitted mistake as a misdemeanour … release him on humanitarian grounds, and send him home,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of the rights watchdog’s Asia Division.
Detained foreigners are often required to make a public, officially-scripted acknowledgement of wrongdoing, and Warmbier was paraded in front of reporters and diplomats in Pyongyang last month.
Footage of the carefully orchestrated event showed a sobbing Warmbier pleading to be released and saying he had made “the worst mistake of my life”.
Warmbier said he had been tasked with stealing the banner by a member of the Friendship United Methodist Church in Wyoming, Ohio, who wanted it “as a trophy” and offered him a used car worth $10,000 if he succeeded.
Political slogans extolling the achievements of the country and its leaders and encouraging citizens to work harder and demonstrate their loyalty are pervasive in North Korea.
They can be seen on the streets and in nearly every public building, as well as every work unit.