The detention of Otto Warmbier, a 21-year-old University of Virginia economics major who had chosen to spend his New Year’s vacation in North Korea, comes at a particularly difficult, or opportune, time, depending on how you choose to interpret it. Just days after he was arrested, North Korea conducted what it said was its first H-bomb test.
According to Warmbier’s tour agent, Young Pioneer Tours, he was almost on his plane home when officials pulled him aside, took him into a special room at the Pyongyang airport and placed him under arrest for allegedly committing an as-yet-undisclosed hostile act against the state. North Korea says he is under investigation and acted with the “tacit connivance of the U.S. government and under its manipulation.”
Initial announcements by North Korea rarely say much about the actual crime, and linking it to the U.S. government in their first statement to the world through state-run media is highly uncommon. North Korea and the United States are still technically at war and have no diplomatic relations.
Warmbier is still under lock-and-key, possibly in the relative comfort of the Yanggakdo, a tourist hotel where his group had stayed that has previously been used to keep detainees until they are deported or more formal legal measures are taken.
Though not a tourist, one more American, missionary Kim Dong Chul, believed to be a naturalized citizen of Korean descent, is reportedly in North Korean custody along with a Canadian-Korean missionary who is serving a life sentence.