Date: June 13, 2017
His freeing is said not to be related to Dennis Rodman’s latest visit to Pyongyang
By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service, who has been to North Korea
PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA (ANS – June 13, 2017) -- University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier has been medically evacuated from North Korea in a coma after being detained for 17 months, his parents told The Washington Post today (Tuesday, June 13th).
Warmbier, 22, is due to arrive home in Cincinnati on Tuesday evening, after a stop at a U.S. military facility near Sapporo, Japan.
The family said they were informed that North Korean officials had told American envoys that Warmbier became ill with botulism sometime after his March trial in North Korea, where he was serving a 15-year-sentence for “hostile acts against the state.”
“The North Korean account, the family said, claimed Warmbier then fell into a coma after being given a sleeping pill,” said The Washington Post. “The Warmbiers said they were told their son has remained in a coma since then.
“There was no immediate confirmation from U.S. officials of North Korea’s description of his illness -- including whether he was stricken with botulism, a potentially fatal disease that is caused by a toxin but is not usually associated with loss of consciousness.”
The Post went onto say that according to Trump administration officials, information about Warmbier’s condition was transmitted on June 6 by North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations to Joseph Yun, the State Department’s special representative for North Korea, at a meeting in New York.
“That meeting followed an earlier, secret meeting last month between Yun and high-level North Korean officials in Oslo,” said the Post. “At that time, North Korea agreed that Swedish diplomats in Pyongyang, who handle U.S. affairs there, would be allowed for the first time to visit four Americans imprisoned by the North, including Warmbier.
“It was after the Swedish consular visit -- confirming Warmbier’s condition -- that North Korea urgently requested to meet with Yun in New York last week.
“Yun immediately informed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson of the situation, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity about the still-secret arrangements.”
Tillerson, they said, consulted with President Trump, and Yun was instructed to prepare to travel to Pyongyang with the intention of bring Warmbier back to the United States. A medical team and aircraft were organized, and North Korea was informed that a delegation would travel there.
Yun arrived in Pyongyang early Monday and immediately requested that North Korean officials take him and two American physicians to Warmbier. It was the first time the United States was able to confirm his status since he was sentenced.
Yun insisted on Warmbier’s immediate release on humanitarian grounds, officials said, and the North Koreans agreed.
“Our son is coming home,” Fred Warmbier told The Post on Tuesday morning after Otto Warmbier was evacuated. “At the moment, we’re just treating this like he’s been in an accident. We get to see our son Otto tonight.”
His release was announced in Washington by Tillerson, who did not discuss Warmbier’s medical condition.
Tillerson called President Trump at 8:35 a.m. Tuesday to inform him that Warmbier was on an airplane en route to the United States, an official said. The last instruction the president left Tillerson was: “Take care of Otto,” the official said.
“At the time of his arrest, Warmbier had been on a stopover tour in North Korea, en route to Hong Kong, where he was to do a January 2016 study-abroad trip,” said The Washington Post story.
“But on his final night in Pyongyang -- New Year’s Eve -- he apparently went to a staff-only floor of his hotel and attempted to take down a large propaganda sign lauding the regime.”
The student, said to be a Christian, was charged with “hostile acts against the state.” After an hour-long trial in March 2016, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labor.
He had not been seen in public since. Swedish diplomats, who represent U.S. interests in North Korea because the United States has no diplomatic relations with the country, had been denied access to him until late last month, following Yun’s Oslo meeting.
“North Korea has woefully inadequate medical care, and it is not clear how North Korean doctors had been caring for Warmbier for more than a year in an unconscious state,” stated the Post story.
Warmbier was flown out of North Korea on the same day that Dennis Rodman, the controversial former basketball star, arrived for his fifth visit in Pyongyang. Rodman’s trip caused a media frenzy because of heightened tensions between North Korea and the United States, but it also raised speculation that he might be going as an envoy to secure the release of Warmbier and three other Americans being detained.
At least three other American citizens remain in North Korean custody. They are:
Kim Hak-song, who had worked for thePyongyang University of Science and Technology and was detained in May on suspicion of “hostile acts” against North Korea. According to the university's chancellor, he had been doing agricultural development work with the school's agricultural farm.
Kim Sang-duk (who goes by his American name, Tony Kim) was detained in April as he waiting to fly out of Pyongyang airport. He'd been teaching a month-long class in international finance and management at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) while serving on the faculty at Yanbian University of Science and Technology in China. The PUST chancellor said in a statement that Kim has been involved in some other activities, like volunteering at an orphanage, while in North Korea. He was in his 50s and had come to teach in the past at the school.
Kim Dong-chul, a former Virginia resident, is a businessman. In an interview, he told CNN that he'd lived in the Chinese city of Yanji since 2001 and worked in the Rason-Sonbong special economic zone, just over the North Korean border. Kim ran a trade and hotel services company. He was accused of spying on the regime and sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in April 2016.
Photo captions: 1) Otto Warmbier is taken to North Korea’s top court in Pyongyang on March 16, 2016. (Photograph: Kyodo/Reuters). 2) Otto Warmbier bows before the court. 3) Otto weeping during the court case. 4) North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-Un speaking. The country has a history of jailing foreigners and tourists from the US, and Warmbier’s arrest happened at a time of great tension. (Daily Mail). 5) Dan Wooding with Dr. David Cho, in Pyongyang, North Korea, during his reporting trip.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 76, is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for 54 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. He has written some 45 books, and has one radio show and two television programs all based in Southern California. While still living in London, Dan worked as a senior reporter for two of the UK’s top circulation newspapers, the Sunday People and the Sunday Mirror, and also did radio interviews for the BBC. He is one of the few Christian journalists every allowed to report from inside of North Korea.