American student Otto Frederick Warmbier, seen here arriving for a his trial in Pyongyang last March, has now been freed, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says.
Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images
North Korea has released American college student Otto Warmbier, who is on his way back to the U.S., according to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
“At the direction of the President, the Department of State has secured the release of Otto Warmbier from North Korea,” Tillerson said in a statement Tuesday. “Mr. Warmbier is en route to the United States, where he will be reunited with his family.”
The University of Virginia student was freed more than a year after a North Korean court sentenced him to 15 years in prison and hard labor. Warmbier initially was detained in January 2016, accused of trying to steal a propaganda banner at his Pyongyang hotel.
Tillerson added that discussions are still ongoing with North Korea “regarding three other U.S. citizens reported detained.”
The secretary said that out of “respect for the privacy of Mr. Warmbier and his family, we have no further comment on Mr. Warmbier.”
News of Warmbier being freed comes on the same day former NBA star Dennis Rodman landed in North Korea to visit its leader, Kim Jong Un. Rodman has said he practices “basketball diplomacy”; it’s not clear whether he spoke on Warmbier’s behalf.
Warmbier, 22, apologized for his actions during a tearful court appearance in February 2016. One month later, he was sentenced to prison. Warmbier has said he arrived in North Korea on Dec. 29, 2015 and was arrested Jan. 2 as he prepared to fly out of Pyongyang’s international airport.
North Korean officials had accused Warmbier of acting on behalf of a Methodist church in Ohio, his native state, as well as attempting to benefit the CIA and the Z Society, a group at UVA.