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American Otto Warmbier Has Been Released From A North Korean Prison

According to multiple reports, Warmbier, 22, has been in a coma since last spring. In March 2016, a North Korean court sentenced him to 15 years in prison and hard labor.


Updated at 12 p.m. ET

North Korea has released American college student Otto Warmbier, who is on his way back to the U.S. and won’t be forced to serve a 15-year prison term, according to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. According to multiple reports, Warmbier is in a coma.

News of the University of Virginia student’s medical condition came on the heels of his arrest, with both the Associated Press and Washington Post citing the Warmbier family.

Fred and Cindy Warmbier were only recently told that their son has been in a coma since March of 2016, they tell the AP. They say he’s now on a Medivac flight.

“We want the world to know how we and our son have been brutalized and terrorized by the pariah regime” in North Korea, the Warmbiers said in a statement quoted by the AP.

Earlier, Tillerson had provided only few details about Warmbier or the circumstances around his release.

“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.”

Later, Tillerson said at the start of testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “We have no comment on Mr. Warmbier’s condition, out of respect to him and the family.”

Warmbier, 22, 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.”

Warmbier was freed 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 is not clear whether he spoke on Warmbier’s behalf.

Warmbier 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, 2016, as he prepared to fly out of Pyongyang’s international airport.

North Korean officials had accused Warmbier of subversion.

As we reported, Warmbier was “paraded in front of cameras and diplomats in Pyongyang, where he read a confession and public apology.”

“On camera, Warmbier said he stole the propaganda poster on behalf of a member of the Friendship United Methodist Church in Wyoming, Ohio, who wanted it ‘as a trophy.’ In exchange, he would receive a used car worth $10,000.”

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