After North Korea sentenced an American student, Otto Frederick Warmbier, to 15 years of hard labor for removing a political banner from a hotel, the U.S. State Department fired back Wednesday, saying the punishment doesn’t fit the alleged crime.
Greg Scarlatoui, executive director for the Committee for Humans Rights in North Korea said Warmbier may be forced to work in agriculture, which happened with other American prisoners. “He may spend his day planting apple trees. It will be fairly grueling forced labor,” Scarlatoui said.
The sentence of 15 years of hard labor against University of Virginia student Otto Frederick Warmbier is “unduly harsh,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, calling for his release. The United States urges North Korea “to pardon him and to grant him special amnesty and immediate release on humanitarian grounds,” Toner said.
The State Department spokesman accused North Korea of politicizing the arrests of U.S. citizens, saying, “It’s increasingly clear from its very public treatment of these cases.”
Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson told The New York Times he met with two North Korean diplomats on Tuesday to lobby for American student Otto Warmbier’s release. Richardson is a longtime diplomat and a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich has also been pushing behind the scenes for Warmbier’s release, an aid to the governor told CNN.
Analysts say it’s possible Warmbier will be released at some point, but very likely Kim Jong Un’s regime could use the student as leverage — and will want a VIP from the United States to travel to North Korea to get him.