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UN envoy urges North Korea to explain why freed US man is in coma

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A U.N. human rights investigator called on North Korea on Friday to explain why an American student was in a coma when he was returned home after more than a year in detention there.

Otto Warmbier, 22, has a severe brain injury and is in a state of “unresponsive wakefulness”, his Ohio doctors said on Thursday.

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His family said he had been in a coma since March 2016, shortly after he was sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in North Korea.

“While I welcome the news of Mr Warmbier’s release, I am very concerned about his condition, and the authorities have to provide a clear explanation about what made him slip into a coma,” Tomas Ojea Quintana, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), said in a statement issued in Geneva.

Ojea Quintana, speaking by telephone, later told Reuters: “There seems to be a disproportionate relation between the act or crime that Otto Warmbier is accused of and the penalty imposed on him from a human right points of view. There is a serious concern in this respect.”

Warmbier, from a Cincinnati suburb, was arrested for trying to steal an item bearing a propaganda slogan, North Korean media reported. On Thursday, North Korea said that it had released him “on humanitarian grounds”.

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The University of Virginia student’s father, Fred Warmbier, said his son had been “brutalized and terrorized” by the North Korean government.

Fred Warmbier said the family did not believe North Korea’s story that his son had fallen into a coma after contracting botulism and being given a sleeping pill.

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Ojea Quintana called on North Korea to “clarify the causes and circumstances” of Otto Warmbier’s release.

“His ordeal could have been prevented had he not been denied basic entitlements when he was arrested, such as access to consular officers and representation by an independent legal counsel of his choosing,” added Ojea Quintana, a lawyer and veteran U.N. rights expert.

Two other U.S. nationals, both university professors in Pyongyang, were arrested this year for allegedly plotting anti-state acts and remain in custody, he said.

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“It is most important that wherever they are being held someone can meet them other than seeing them at a public trial. This is something I have been trying to do for foreign national prisoners,” he told Reuters, urging they be granted access to consular officials. “This is where the problem lies.”

Veteran former U.S. politician and diplomat Bill Richardson also offered on Friday to visit North Korea to try to secure their release.

A 2014 landmark report by a U.N. investigators cataloged massive human rights violations in North Korea which they said could amount to crimes against humanity.

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Tens of thousands of people are detained across the isolated country in inhumane conditions and subjected to torture and forced labor, it said.

North Korea has “categorically and totally” rejected the U.N. report.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Andrew Roche and Alison Williams)

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… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. Unlike other news sites, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

Raw Story is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. We’re not part of a conglomerate, or a project of venture capital bros. From unflinching coverage of racism, to revealing efforts to erode our rights, Raw Story will continue to expose hypocrisy and harm. Unhinged from corporate overlords, we fight to ensure no one is forgotten.

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John Oliver cites Donald Trump’s final offer for Greenland: ‘$200 and I’ll throw in Don Jr.’

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"Last Week Tonight" host John Oliver's favorite highlight of the week was, of course, President Donald Trump's decision that he wanted to buy Greenland.

In his opener Sunday, the HBO host said that he wasn't all that surprised given Trump's track record.

"Of course, he f*cking did. Of course, he did. Greenland is icy, distant and autonomous is exactly Trump's type," Oliver said, showing a photo of Trump with the first lady.

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Florida teacher removed after bizarre rant about students not standing for the pledge

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Students were faced with a white-board rant in a classroom attacking anyone not standing up for the Pledge of Allegiance.

The moment went viral locally on Thursday after students posted Daniel Goodman‘s “inappropriate” message to students at First Coast High School in Duval County, Florida, The Atlanta Black Star reported.

“THINK: We had about a half million Americans die in our Civil War, which was largely to get rid of slavery. There are no longer separate water fountains and bathrooms in Jacksonville for ‘white’ and ‘colored,’ as Mr. Goodman remembers from the 1960?s. We had an amendment to the U.S. Constitution allowing women the right to vote. We have had a Black president. The superintendent of Duval Schools is a Black woman. Mr. Fluent, our principal, replaced a Black man. Mr. Simmons, who now is a DC PS admninistrator.”

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Angry Minnesota farmer bashes ‘insulting’ Trump comments that ‘we’re great patriots’ during his trade war

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President Donald Trump has insulted at least one Minnesota farmer by his claim that farmers are "great patriots" who want him to continue his trade fight against China.

"This wound is self-inflicted, by our president," said Gary Wertish, who is the Minnesota Farm Bureau president. "We definitely agreed with it in the beginning. But it doesn’t appear that there’s a plan B. Some of the callous comments come, especially from the president, you know, that farmers are 'winning,' we’re 'great patriots,' that’s very insulting. That’s coming from someone who never has faced the challenges of a family farmer. I go into the bank and tell the lender I can’t make the payment because we lost our market? The banker is going to tell me you don’t have to make your payment because you’re a patriot."

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