An American student who was arrested in North Korea apologized on state television Monday, begging the Korean people and government for forgiveness for his crime.
North Korea said it arrested Otto Warmbier, a 21-year-old University of Virginia undergraduate student, last month for allegedly “perpetrating a hostile act” against the regime.
Warmbier was presented to the media in Pyongyang on Monday, where he apologized for trying to steal a political banner he said he wanted as a trophy for a church member in his hometown of Wyoming, Ohio, who was the mother of a friend. It wasn’t clear if he made the admission voluntarily.
Warmbier told reporters he arrived in Pyongyang from Beijing on Dec. 29.
“On the early morning of Jan. 1, 2016, I committed my crime, of taking out the important political slogan from the staff-only area of the Yanggakdo International Hotel, which aimed at harming the work ethic and the motivation of the Korean people,” he told reporters.
Warmbier, who was staying at the hotel, said he was detained at Pyongyang International Airport the following day.
“I have been very impressed by the Korean government’s humanitarian treatment of severe criminals like myself, and of their very fair and square legal procedures in the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea),” he said.
“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 was arrested while visiting the country with Young Pioneer Tours, an agency specializing in travel to North Korea. The State Department warns against travel to the North.
North Korea said he traveled to the country as a tourist but with the real aim of destroying the unity of North Korea with “the tacit connivance of the U.S. government.” It said Warmbier was acting under “the U.S. government’s acquiescence and control,” South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.
The State Department said it was aware of the reports that a U.S. citizen was detained in North Korea.
While campaigning in New Hampshire as a Republican presidential candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, called Warmbier’s arrest “inexcusable.” He urged President Obama to “make every effort to secure Mr. Warmbier’s immediate release and keep (his) family constantly apprised.”