North Korea has released Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student who was arrested early last year and sentenced to 15 years' hard labor.

Why was Otto Warmbier Arrested?

Otto Warmbier was studying commerce and economics. Things took a turn for the worse while he was on a trip to North Korea. On January 2nd, 2016, he was arrested while trying to leave the country with his tour group and accused of stealing a propaganda poster. The North Korean government labeled his crime an "act of hostility against the state."

On February 29th, 2016, Warmbier confessed to stealing the poster, claiming that he had stolen it to bring back as a memento for a friend back home who allegedly offered him a $10,000 gift card for the poster.

"I never, never should have allowed myself to be lured by the United States administration to commit a crime in this country," Warmbier said in a statement he gave after confessing to stealing the poster, "I wish that the United States administration never manipulate people like myself in the future to commit crimes against foreign countries. I entirely beg you, the people and government of the DPRK, for your forgiveness. Please! I made the worst mistake of my life!"

It is unclear whether this statement or his confession were given under duress. After confessing, Otto Warmbier was sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor.

International Reaction

International organizations condemned Warmbier's sentence, which they saw as unnecessary and lengthy.

Human Rights Watch called the sentence "outrageous and shocking." Governments from around the world also looked down upon the North Korean court's decision. The US State Department released a statement claiming that Warmbier's sentence was done for political purposes and as a response to the various economic sanctions nations such as the United States have put on them.

Illness and Release

After 17 months in prison in North Korea, Warmbier was released on Tuesday. "Sadly, he is in a coma and we have been told he has been in that condition since March of 2016," the parents told agencies. The family also released a statement saying that officials in North Korea told them that Otto Warmbier had become ill with botulism and had been in a coma for well over a year now.

The North Korean officials claimed that Warmbier fell into the heavy coma after taking a sleeping pill. The University of Cincinnati Medical Center released a statement saying that Otto Warmbier would be treated there upon arrival.

State Department visit to North Korea

Although Washington and Pyongyang have no official diplomatic relations, the US State Department's special envoy to North Korea, Joseph Yun made a visit to the hermit kingdom and demanded the release of Warmbier on what he cited as "humanitarian grounds." Tensions between the United States and North Korea have been high since Donald Trump took office in January 2017. After North Korea conducted several ballistic missile tests earlier this year, Trump has made it clear he would put an end to what he called Obama's "strategic patience."

Joseph Yun was told about Warmbier's condition on June 6, 2017, in a meeting he had with North Korean officials in New York.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was then alerted. Tillerson informed President Trump of Warmbier's condition and helped organize a medical team to travel with Yun to North Korea. Bill Richardson, a former diplomat who has negotiated with North Korean officials in the past, has claimed that “In no uncertain terms North Korea must explain the causes of his coma."

Warmbier is not the first foreigner or American to be arrested in North Korea. Several have been arrested over the years on charges of either espionage or "crimes against the state." Many of the foreigners and American have been released after short sentences and negotiations.