Otto Frederick Warmbier, a 21-year-old University of Virginia economics student, was reportedly seized at Pyongyang airport before his scheduled flight to China on January 2. The Korean-language state broadcaster KCNA said Warmbier “aimed to destroy the country’s unity” and was being “manipulated by the U.S. government.”
Unconfirmed reports from a passenger suggested the American was dragged away by armed guards. The witness also told the U.K.’s Independent daily that Warmbier’s tour group “were up until four or five in the morning drinking vodka and having fun.”
According to Adam Cathcart, a North Korea specialist at the University of Leeds, in England, while the post-detention treatment of individuals is always political and used for domestic and international propaganda, “the arrests themselves are usually triggered by behavior that the North Korean authorities can classify as illegal.”
Most recently these include Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American missionary sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for proselytizing, and Matthew Todd Miller, a 25-year-old American whom the North Koreans accused of espionage. Both were subsequently released.