An American man sentenced to 15 years hard labor in North Korea for attempting to steal a propaganda poster has not been permitted consular access in nearly six months, the U.S. State Department confirmed Wednesday.
Otto Warmbier, a 21-year-old college student at the University of Virginia, was detained in January as he prepared to leave North Korea at the end of a tour. He was sentenced in March for swiping the poster and for other unspecified “crimes against the state.” Washington has criticized the sentence as “unduly harsh.”
In a statement, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said that an official from the Swedish Embassy, which represents American interests in the country, last visited Warmbier nearly six months ago. “Even when requested by the Swedish Embassy, … the DPRK still routinely delays or denies consular access to U.S. citizens,” the statement, released Tuesday, said. “Representatives from the Swedish Embassy have not been granted consular access to Mr. Warmbier since the visit on March 2.”
“Three months without consular access is a violation of the right to equality before the law,” Arnold Fang, a Hong Kong-based researcher with Amnesty International said. “Despite official claims that U.S. citizens arrested in the DPRK are not used for political purposes, it’s increasingly clear from its very public treatment of these cases that the DPRK does just that,” he said.