March 01, 2016 08:38
An American college student detained in North Korea has publicly confessed to attempting to steal a political banner from a Pyongyang hotel.
Otto Warmbier appeared before a group of domestic and foreign journalists Monday in the North Korean capital, accompanied by North Korean guards. The 21-year-old University of Virginia student, who was visiting North Korea with a tour group, was arrested last month before boarding a plane out of the country.
He has been charged with committing a hostile act against the state, with the help of the United States.
Warmbier told reporters he removed a political slogan from a staff-only area of the hotel where the group was staying to give to a member of his church who wanted the banner to display as a "trophy." He said the church member offered him a used car worth $10,000. If he was caught and unable to return, the church member said Warmbier's mother would get $200,000.
Pyongyang has not said what possible punishment Warmbier may face.
A State Department spokesman later Monday said that as a general practice, North Korea arrests and imprisons people for actions that would not give rise to arrests, let alone imprisonment, in the United States. He added there's little doubt that North Korea uses detention as a tool for propaganda purposes.
North Korea has often detained Americans and other foreign citizens on trumped up charges. The detainees are usually brought before foreign journalists to read statements confessing to crimes committed against the dictatorial regime. The statements are widely considered to have been coerced, and detainees often recant their confessions after their release.
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