A couple of weeks ago I posted about the 21 year old University of Virginia student who was being detained in North Korea for two months. He had traveled to North Korea over New Years, and was accused of trying to steal a North Korean banner from the hotel he was staying at.
If this is in fact true (which we don’t really know, since the only source of information here is the North Korean government) then he had a pretty big lapse in judgment for trying something like that in a country like North Korea.
Unsurprisingly, North Korea is blowing it out of proportion, and is accusing him of committing a “hostile act” on behalf of a church, a secretive university organization, and the CIA. If he did in fact try to steal a banner from his hotel, it’s clear it was a poorly thought out plan to bring some North Korean memorabilia back to the US, and not an act on behalf of the US government.
A couple of weeks ago the student held a press conference commending the Korean government’s humanitarian treatment of severe criminals like him, and complimenting their fair and square legal procedures. Here’s the video of that:
Well, there’s now a follow up to the story. The 21 year old had his day in North Korea’s “fair and square” court, and has received his sentence.
For his crimes, Otto Warmbier has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea. Per The Wall Street Journal:
North Korea charged him with subversion, calling the alleged theft an antiregime plot formed with the “connivance of the U.S. administration.”
Mr. Warmbier was convicted and sentenced at North Korea’s Supreme Court on Wednesday, the Korean Central News Agency reported. The report said he “confessed to the serious offense against the DPRK he had committed, pursuant to the U.S. government’s hostile policy toward it, in a bid to impair the unity of its people after entering it as a tourist.”
Here’s a video of him from his sentencing earlier today:
Yow! Hopefully the sentence can be negotiated down, and this is just North Korea trying to prove a point. I wouldn’t count on it, though…
The reason I’m posting about this is because I think it raises some interesting questions as to the risks of traveling to some of the more extreme countries out there. Everyone has different tolerance levels, and I’m not sure where I draw the line personally.
I know many Americans who have traveled to North Korea without issue, and had a nice time. They’re even quick to defend North Korea. Personally it’s not a place I’d feel safe going, given the government’s record of fabricating crimes and having no sort of legal process.
At the same time I have no problem traveling to several Middle Eastern countries which have archaic laws and strict punishments, even though they’re rarely enforced. But I still feel safe in them.
Would you ever travel to North Korea? Where do you draw the line when it comes to traveling to countries with extreme governments?