The father of the 22-year-old American student released, in a coma, from North Korea this week says there’s “no excuse for a civilised nation to have kept his condition secret and to have denied him top-notch medical care”.
Fred Warmbier said that he and his wife, Cindy, had gone for 15 months “without a word from or about” their son Otto.
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. He said that he and his wife had relied on the “false premise that they would treat Otto fairly and let him go”.
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.