North Korea has dismissed accusations that Otto Warmbier died because of torture and beating. (Reuters: Kyodo, file)
North Korea has said that the death of US university student Otto Warmbier soon after his return home was a mystery and dismissed accusations that he died because of torture and beating during his captivity as “groundless”.
- North Korea said accusations Warmbier was tortured were “groundless”
- The North said Warmbier returned to the US in “normal state of health”
- Warmbier’s cause of death remains unclear and an autopsy was not performed
The North’s foreign ministry spokesman also said in comments carried by the official KCNA agency that Warmbier was “a victim of the policy of strategic patience” of former US President Barack Obama, whose government never requested his release.
“The fact that Warmbier died suddenly in less than a week just after his return to the US in his normal state of health indicators is a mystery to us as well,” the spokesman was quoted by KCNA as saying.
He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labour for trying to steal an item bearing a propaganda slogan from his hotel, North Korean state media said.
He was brought back to the United States last week in a coma with brain damage, in what doctors described as state of “unresponsive wakefulness”, and died on Monday.
His death heightened the conflict between the North and the United States, which was already aggravated by North Korea’s defiant missile launches and two nuclear tests since early last year.
The tests were part of its effort to build a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of hitting the US mainland.
Doctors said Warmbier was in a state of “unresponsive wakefulness” when he arrived in the US. (AP: The Cincinnati Enquirer, file)
North Korea: Warmbier was ‘clearly a criminal’
US President Donald Trump blamed “the brutality of the North Korean regime” for Warmbier’s death, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who had advocated dialogue with the North, said Pyongyang had a “heavy responsibility” in the events leading up to the American’s death.
The North’s spokesman said such accusations were part of a smear campaign to slander the country that had given “medical treatments and care with all sincerity” to a person who was “clearly a criminal”.
US doctors who had travelled to the North last week to evacuate Warmbier had recognised that the North had “provided him with medical treatment and brought him back alive whose heart was nearly stopped”, the unnamed ministry spokesman said.
“Although Warmbier was a criminal who committed a hostile act against the DPRK, we accepted the repeated requests of the present US administration and, in consideration of his bad health, sent him back home on humanitarian grounds,” the spokesman said.
The exact cause of Warmbier’s death remains unclear.
Officials at the University of Cincinnati Medical Centre, where he was treated after his return from the North, declined to provide details, and his family asked the Hamilton County Coroner on Tuesday not to perform an autopsy.
Thousands of friends and family members gathered at Wyoming High School in suburban Cincinnati on Thursday for a memorial service for Warmbier, who graduated from the school as the second-highest ranked student in 2013.
The United States has demanded North Korea release three other US citizens it holds in detention: missionary Kim Dong-chul and academics Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song.
Warmbier was freed after the US State Department’s special envoy on North Korea, Joseph Yun, travelled to Pyongyang and demanded the student’s release on humanitarian grounds, capping a flurry of diplomatic contacts, a US official has said.
The North previously released American detainees it had accused and convicted of crimes against the state on the occasion of high-level visits by US officials.
Otto Warmbier’s funeral was held at Wyoming High School in Ohio. (Reuters: John Sommers, file)