An American student detained in North Korea since early January and accused of carrying out a hostile act against the state has been paraded before the media.
21-year-old Otto Warmbier from the University of Virginia read out a purported confession saying he had stolen a political slogan – thought to have been from his hotel in Pyongyang.
He was arrested on January 2 and reportedly taken away before boarding a flight back to China.
“I understand the severity of my crime, and I have no idea what sort of penalty I may face, but I am begging to the Korean people and government for my forgiveness. And I am praying to the heavens so that I may be returned home to my family.”
Warmbier said he had been offered a prize of a second hand car if he could bring back a “trophy” to present to an American church.
North Korea’s state news agency KCNA reported on Monday that Warmbier had been “arrested for committing anti-DPRK hostile acts” and published the text of his alleged confession.
Responding to his appearance in their first public statement since his detention, the student’s family said they hoped his “sincere apology” would make it possible for the authorities to allow him to come home.
They said the US State Department and Swedish embassy in Pyongyang were working to secure Warmbier’s release.
BREAKING: Warmbier family releases statement: “Our top priority is to get him back home with us as quickly as possible.”— The Cavalier Daily (@cavalierdaily) 29 February 2016
The student was part of a group trip organised by Young Pioneer Tours whose representative described how he had been detained at the airport.
Another version of events was given by an Irish national who said he was on the same plane as the one Warmbier had been due to travel on, adding that he had been part of a young tour party and had been up drinking during the night.
North Korea’s state media said in January that the student’s “hostile act against the state” had been “tolerated and manipulated by the US government”.
The secretive communist state has a history of detaining foreigners who then “confess” to alleged crimes against the state.
It has used jailed US citizens to secure high-profile diplomatic visits from the United States, with which it has no diplomatic relations.
The US government strongly recommends against all travel by its citizens to North Korea.