AN AMERICAN university student held prisoner in North Korea for 17 months died on Monday, just days after he was released from captivity in a coma.
Otto Warmbier, 22, who was arrested in North Korea while visiting as a tourist, had been described by doctors caring for him last week as having extensive brain damage that left him in a state of ‘unresponsive wakefulness.’
‘Unfortunately, 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,’ the family said in a statement after Warmbier’s death.
The family said that Warmbier lapsed into a coma in March 2016, shortly after he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labour in North Korea.
The University of Virginia student and Ohio native was arrested, according to North Korean media, for trying to steal an item bearing a propaganda slogan.
North Korea released Warmbier last week and said he was being freed ‘on humanitarian grounds’.
Warmbiers father said last week that his son had been ‘brutalised and terrorised by the Pyongyang government’ and that the family did not believe North Korea’s story that his son had fallen into a coma after contracting botulism and being given a sleeping pill.
Doctors who examined Warmbier after his release said there was no sign of botulism in his system.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States holds North Korea accountable for Warmbier’s ‘unjust imprisonment’ and demanded the release of three other U.S. citizens still held by Pyongyang – Korean-Americans Tony Kim, Kim Dong Chul and Kim Hak Song.