North Korea has arrested an American college student who it says entered the country in an attempt to bring down the government. The news was released Friday in an announcement on the website of the country's state-run media, Korean Central News Agency.
The student, identified as Otto Frederick Warmbier, was accused of "perpetrating a hostile act against the DPRK," and disguising his plans by entering as a tourist. KCNA also accused Warmbier of working with "the tacit connivance of the U.S. government and under its manipulation."
The KCNA report was confirmed by the North Korea adventure tour group Young Pioneer Tours through a statement on its website. Warmbier, reported the Associated Press, is an undergraduate commerce major from the University of Virginia. A Facebook page believed to be his identifies him as a Cincinnati native.
Mic reached out to YPT, which did not return request for comment. In a statement the company said that they were "working with the [North Korean] Ministry of Foreign Affairs to address the case," as well as "assisting the U.S Department of State closely with regards to the situation."
On numerous past occasions, the Communist country has jailed Americans. In 2009 journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling were detained while filming a documentary along the North Korean border, accused of illegally entering the country. The pair was only sprung after the personal intervention of former President Bill Clinton who traveled to the country and met with then-leader Kim Jong Il.
While successful, Clinton's involvement set a precedent that such detainments could win the North access to the highest reaches of the U.S. government. Since then, random acts of detention against U.S. citizens — rare before Lee and Ling — spiked.
Kenneth Bae spent more than a year in a North Korean jail after being accused of illegal religious activity in the country. Merrill Newman did time after being a little too glib about his service in the U.S. Army fighting against the North in the Korean War — a war that technically remains ongoing. There was also Matthew Miller, Jeffrey Fowle and Robert Park. Warmbier now joins Kim Dong Chul, another U.S. citizen currently incarcerated in the country.
In a profile published on Oprah.com, Laura Ling spoke of being coerced into a false confession of trying to overthrow the government by her interrogators:
I knew that that was the confession that they wanted to hear, and I was told, 'If you confess, there may be forgiveness. And if you're not frank, if you don't confess, then the worst could happen.' It was the most difficult decision to have to do that. I didn't know if I was sealing my fate and could be sent out to a firing squad the next day. But I just had to trust that this was the right thing to do.
The North has not elaborated on the exact nature of the Warmbier's crimes, but it likely aims to follow the same playbook — to use the college student as a means to access U.S. officials and gain economic concessions.
Coming just weeks after the North claims to have tested a hydrogen bomb, the DPRK may be looking to drag the U.S. back to some form of negotiation over the country's nuclear weapons — historically those negotiations have resulted in economic, food and energy aid for the impoverished country but have otherwise proved fruitless.
Friday morning the U.S. State Department acknowledged the allegations on Twitter:
With no formal diplomatic relations, the United States does not maintain an embassy in North Korea and consular service is typically handled by Sweden or back channels. At this time it remains unclear what steps will be taken to secure both Warmbier's and Chul's releases.
Correction: Jan. 22, 2016