Recently, University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor and imprisonment for stealing a propaganda poster from a hotel while on a trip to North Korea.
Warmbier has been held in the Asian country since January, and his detainment was only made public in late February. He has admitted to taking the poster to give as a "trophy" to someone from his hometown church in exchange for a car.
|Courtesy of KCNA/REUTERS|
“I have made the worst mistake of my life.” --Otto Warmbier
Press Secretary Josh Earnest has stated that the North Korean government is using Warmbier and other U.S. citizens as "pawns to pursue a political agenda." Human rights groups are obviously angry, calling the action "outrageous and shocking."
However, Marie Myung-Ok Lee of the New York Times has a different opinion. In this piece, Lee tells of her experience traveling to North Korea, which is not an experience many people have.
"Once your Russian-made Air Koryo jet lands and you are in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, you lose control. You hand over your passport “for security reasons.” You are taken where the government wants you to go, you eat what’s given, you are not allowed to seek out unscripted encounters," Lee says. She was not shocked at the sentence Warmbier received.
Lee also mentions that we don't take North Korea seriously enough. The country has certainly been the butt of the world's jokes for its people's steadfast loyalty to their culture and leaders; North Korea seems to be a separate world of its own in essentially every respect. Is "not taking North Korea seriously" the root of the problem here?
Other questions: What was your reaction to Warmbier's trial? Was his sentence justified? What could the motives be to imprison him? What does this situation say about the nature of North Korea as a whole?