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.
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”.
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.
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.
“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.
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)
Mitch McConnell busted on CNN as the ‘ringmaster’ leaving the door open for more Russian election interference
On Tuesday, CNN's John Avlon broke down how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is every bit the obstacle to secure and safe elections as President Donald Trump is.
"There should be things that transcend petty politics, and towards the top of that list is stopping foreign powers from interfering in our elections," said Avlon, playing a clip of former special counsel Robert Mueller warning about the dangers. "Robert Mueller's warning is again, falling on willfully deaf ears. We know that foreign powers continue to try to meddle in our elections. Trump's FBI director and Director of National Intelligence have made this crystal clear."
Who’s leading the Wall Street primary? Looks like Biden, Harris and Buttigieg
Having already determined that two of the top contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination — Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders — are unacceptable and must be stopped at all costs, Wall Street financiers have reportedly begun to narrow down their list of 2020 favorites as candidates' fundraising efforts reach a "fevered peak" ahead of the June filing deadline.
‘Race Traitor’: Far-right UK student jailed for more than four years over Prince Harry online posts
A far-right university student who called Prince Harry a race traitor and created an image of him with a pistol to his head was on Tuesday jailed in Britain for more than four years.
Michal Szewczuk, 19, posted the image, which also featured a blood-splattered swastika, on microblogging platform Gab in August last year, months after the prince married mixed-race actress Meghan Markle.The post included the phrase "See Ya Later Race Traitor".
Szewczuk, who was jailed for four years and three months, pleaded guilty to two counts of encouraging terrorism and five counts of possession of terrorist material, including the White Resistance Manual and an Al-Qaeda manual.