A US student held in North Korea since early January was detained for trying to steal an item bearing a propaganda slogan from his Pyongyang hotel and has confessed to “severe crimes” against the state, says Reuters.

Otto Warmbier, 21, a student at the University of Virginia, was detained before boarding his flight to China.

The BBC Seoul correspondent said that the North Korean judge was considering the highest possible sentence, and that Warmbier sounded “clearly upset”.

North Korea has a history of detaining foreigners and later making a public display of their “confessions”, as in the case of Korean Canadian pastor, Hyeun-soo Lim who was recently sentenced to life in prison following an admission in a Pyongyang church of committing crimes against the state.

At a news conference in Pyongyang, Warmbier said a “deaconess” of his Friendship United Methodist Church in Ohio had promised to give him a used car worth $10,000 if he brought back a propaganda sign from his North Korea trip. However, the senior pastor at the church in Wyoming, Ohio, told CNN 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 has, for the 14th consecutive year, been considered the most difficult place in the world to be a Christian, according to the 2016 Open Doors World Watch List.

Source: BBC, Reuters