The family of 22-year-old Otto Warmbier confirmed his death yesterday (19 June), just a week after he was released, in a coma, from 15 months’ detention in North Korea.
In a statement, the family said it was their “sad duty to report that our son, Otto Warmbier, has completed his journey home”.
They said he had been “unable to speak, unable to see and unable to react to verbal commands”.
“The awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans ensured that no other outcome was possible beyond the sad one we experienced today,” they said.
Last week, his father Fred had said there was “no excuse for a civilised nation to have kept [Otto’s] condition secret and to have denied him top-notch medical care”, and that he and his wife, Cindy, had gone for 15 months “without a word from or about” their son.
He added that he didn’t believe North Korea’s explanation for the coma being that Otto had contracted botulism (caused by a toxin), which they had treated with a sleeping pill. Doctors in the US also disputed North Korea’s explanation, though they said there was no evidence he had suffered physical abuse. Before his death, it was confirmed that Otto had suffered severe brain damage.
A statement from US President Donald Trump said: “The United States once again condemns the brutality of the North Korean regime, as we mourn its latest victim.”
Mr Trump vowed that his administration would redouble its efforts to “prevent such tragedies from befalling innocent people at the hands of regimes that do not respect the rule of law or basic human decency”.
Otto Warmbier had been detained since January 2016, and was later sentenced to 15 years’ hard labour, for attempting to steal a propaganda sign from his Pyongyang hotel.
At a televised news conference a month after his arrest, Warmbier said he had stolen the sign for a “deaconess” at his Friendship United Methodist Church in Ohio, after she promised to give him a used car worth $10,000 if he brought back the sign. However, the senior pastor at the church in Wyoming, Ohio, told CNN at that time that he did not know the person identified by Warmbier as a deaconess there, and said Warmbier was not a member of the congregation.
North Korea is ranked No. 1 on Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of the 50 most difficult places to be a Christian.
A North Korean man, Kim Seung-mo, 61, was arrested earlier this month on “spying” charges after meeting with Christian relatives in China.
In April, Tony Kim and Kim Hak Song were arrested, having both worked with North Korea’s Christian-run Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.
Previously, in 2015, 62-year-old Korean-American missionary Kim Dong Chul was detained and Korean-Canadian pastor Hyeun-soo Lim was given a life sentence for charges including trying to overthrow the government. Like Tony Kim, Lim was involved in humanitarian work with orphanages.