University of Virginia Student Detained in North Korea Under Mysterious CircumstancesBy Russell Westerholm
A student at the University of Virginia was detained in North Korea for undisclosed reasons, but the vague details available make his charges seem serious.
According to Reuters, Otto Frederick Warmbier was detained on Jan. 2 at Pyongyang Airport as he was boarding his flight back to China. Warmbier was on a five-day trip organized by Young Pioneer Tours, but it is unclear what the purpose of the trip was.
News of Warmbier's detainment did not break until Friday, nearly three weeks later, but statements from the U.S. State Department and the YPT organization indicate both parties have been working on the case all along.
"We can confirm that the reports that one of our clients is being detained in Pyongyang are true. Their family have been informed and we are in contact with the Swedish Embassy, (who act as the protecting interest for U.S citizens), who are working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to address the case," read a statement from YPT. "We are also assisting the U.S Department of State closely with regards to the situation. In the meantime we would appreciate Otto's and his family's privacy being respected and we hope his release can be secured as soon as possible."
North Korea's state-run Central News Agency provided little detail on Warmbier's arrest, but outline serious allegations nonetheless. Per Esquire, the UVA student is being held for "perpetrating a hostile act against the DPRK after entering it under the guise of tourist for the purpose of bringing down the foundation of its single-minded unity at the tacit connivance of the U.S. government and under its manipulation."
The Cavalier Daily, a campus newspaper at UVA, noted Warmbier is a third-year commerce student who is a member of the Theta Chi fraternity and an Echols scholar. Reuters pointed out he is also minoring in global sustainability and has visited Cuba and Israel, based on posts from his social media accounts.
In a statement to The Cavalier Daily, UVA stated it had nothing to do with the YPT trip to North Korea but confirmed administrators have "been in touch with Otto Warmbier's family."