By Christine Khamis

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia


A student who traveled to North Korea as a tourist has been detained for a “hostile act”, according to North Korea’s state-run media. Otto F. Warmbier, a student at the University of Virginia, has been accused of entering North Korea with the intent to bring down the foundation of North Korea’s “single-minded unity”.

Otto Warmbier. (Photo courtesy of BBC News)

Mr. Warmbier traveled to North Korea with Young Pioneer Tours, a China-based company that organizes trips to North Korea. The company released a statement saying that Mr. Warmbier had been detained in Pyongyang on January 2 as he went through customs. It appears that Mr. Warmbier was about to travel to China when he was detained.

Young Pioneer Tours also stated that it was in contact with Mr. Warmbier’s family and the Swedish Embassy, which offers consular assistance to Americans in North Korea. KCNA, North Korea’s state-run news source, has disclosed that Mr. Warmbier is currently under investigation. Further details about Mr. Warmbier’s detainment are currently unknown.

A spokesman for the U.S. State Department, Mark Toner, has stated that the State Department is aware that Mr. Warmbier has been detained and that the Department is working with the Swedish Embassy to address the situation. The Swedish Embassy represents U.S. interests in North Korea, as the U.S. and North Korea do not have formal diplomatic relations with each other.

Other Americans have been detained by North Korea in the past, often for activities seen as subversive due to their religious or political nature. The U.S. State Department and Canada’s government have warned against traveling to North Korea because of the westerners who have been detained there. Despite the warnings, around 6,000 westerners continue to travel to North Korea every year.

Mr. Warmbier is the third westerner known to be held in North Korea at this time. The others include a Korean-American detained on spying charges and a Canadian pastor who allegedly plotted to overthrow North Korea’s government.


For more information, please see:

CNN – North Korea Arrests American Student for ‘Hostile Act’ – 23 January 2016

BBC News – North Korea Arrests US student for ‘Hostile Act’ – 22 January 2016

The New York Times – North Korea Says It’s Holding U.S. Student for ‘Hostile Act’ –22 January 2015

Reuters – North Korea Detains U.S. Student on New Year Trip for ‘Hostile Act’ – 22 January 2016


Author: Christine Khamis