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jca's avatar

15 year sentence of hard labor for 20 year old US tourist who stole propaganda poster in North Korea. Does it make you wonder why anybody would go to North Korea?

Asked by jca (36043points) March 16th, 2016

Otto Warmbier, 20 years old received a one hour trial. He said he was drunk. Now he has 15 years hard labor ahead of him for his crime.

Yes, supposedly he did steal it, he admits it, unless his confession was coerced. He said he stole the propaganda poster from the hotel. Wrong yes but 15 years hard labor? If we’re lucky, a US diplomat will plead for his release and that may or may not be successful. If you’ve ever read about prison camps in North Korea, they’re no country club.

Every time I hear about something like this coming from North Korea, I have to wonder: With all the places in the world you can visit (there’s a whole world out there!), why would anybody want to go to someplace so harsh and restrictive as North Korea?

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33 Answers

Jak's avatar

I can’t imagine why anybody would want to visit North Korea. I also know that when you’re in another country you have to abide by that country’s laws. Coercion is a distinct possibility. He might have been taking pictures or something, we may never know.

Pachy's avatar

Jeez, I’m a little nervous about going to another U.S. state these days! ;-) Why oh why would anyone want to visit a declared enemy of not only our country but actually the entire world.

On the brighter side (I hope), I read a piece this morning that points out that NK likes to hand out extreme sentences for minor offenses like this just to get the person’s government to come begging for clemancy, and that usually after long, tough negotiation the person is expelled.

zenvelo's avatar

In my opinion, anyone going to North Korea for “tourism” is doing some odd bit of attention seeking. Well, he has all the attention he wanted.

syz's avatar

Why would anyone go to North Korea?

jca's avatar

I remembered there was recently a question about North Korea on Fluther. I came upon this, where there were some that were saying we should not be afraid to go there. I don’t get that logic but read on:

ucme's avatar

The real crime here is that anyone, knowing the reputation of N.Korea, would be so fucking dumb as to behave in such a way.

ragingloli's avatar

Considering that people in the colonies get these kind of sentences for pot, I think he got off lightly.

Mimishu1995's avatar

So that they can see for themselves the horror there, or to see if what they hear about there is true or not?

I guess there are people, especially Americans, who think that everything said about NK is exaggerated, and want to disprove it. Sure, with so many bad things being said about that place you may be suspicious. But sometimes there are things so horrible it is true.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

I love going to countries in ideological opposition to ours. I like to take a look at the other side, talk to the people. But even I wouldn’t set foot in a country while it is run by a madman.

gorillapaws's avatar

He’s going to get the full experience it seems. I think we should give him 10 more years in the US when he gets home for being a pawn that gets used to promote an enemy of the US. No US citizen should ever go there of their own free will, unless they’re on a state-sanctioned, official diplomatic envoy.

CWOTUS's avatar

I can understand the “wanting to go”; I’m surprised that others can’t. It’s not so much different from the urge to “rough it” while camping, or to travel around Europe with a backpack and a Railpass and very little cash. It’s the challenge and the test of one’s resources.

What I can’t very well understand is tossing aside any semblance of survival instinct and judgement while in NK and getting out-of-control drunk. Because he had to know going in how intolerant they are of misbehavior.

The thing that pisses me off the most about this is that we’ll probably give away half the farm to get the asshole back, because it’s unlikely that he will actually serve any of that time – and the Norks and American diplomats know it – it’s just a question of how much it now costs us to get the idiot back on US soil. His passport should be revoked for good once he’s back home.

ragingloli's avatar

I would let him rot in that labour camp.
“Warmbier”? More like “kein Bier”.

ibstubro's avatar

Yes, I’ve wondered that very thing!

I now see you already posted the link, @jca, but my answer remains my answer. :-)

marinelife's avatar

North Korea is not high on my travel wish list.

Coloma's avatar

This sort of thing could happen anywhere. I had an 18 yr. old female friend that spent 2 years in a mexican prison for a minor amount of marijuana back in the mid 70’s. Same rope, different end. Young people want adventure and sometimes they get more than they bargained for.
It’s just that simple.

jca's avatar

I think 15 years of hard labor in a North Korean prison trumps 2 years in a Mexican prison.

Coloma's avatar

@jca Of course, just sayin’ that young kids are often impulsive and reckless in their behaviors and while unfortunate I don’t think the one poor decision in youth makes anyone an idiot for life. 2 years or 15, being imprisoned in a foreign country is no holiday.
I hope they can get this kid exonerated.

ragingloli's avatar

I hope he gets devoured by Kim Yong Un. He looks hungry.

flutherother's avatar

Going to North Korea is one thing, getting drunk and defacing propaganda signs is beyond stupid. The sentence is particularly harsh as US DPRK relations are not good at the moment. He is simply a bargaining chip. I don’t think he will be sent to the average North Korean work camp where the chances of survival are not good and where he would see many things they wouldn’t want him to describe if he survived.

Zaku's avatar

I can understand wanting to go to North Korea. I have seen travel pictures and stories from people who went, and they are pretty interesting.

I would be afraid to go, and if I did go, I would be very cautious, careful, polite and well-behaved.

However, I’m not angry at someone for going, or even for getting into trouble. Maybe he’s an alcoholic. Maybe he has psychological issues. Maybe he was framed. Maybe he’s there to infiltrate the prison system. Who knows? Not I. In any case, getting angry at people for traveling someplace and getting in trouble seems like misplaced anger, to me.

It does however seem most likely to have been extremely poor judgement for him to have gotten drunk, and to have taken a poster.

The point that the USA also dumps people in labor camp for having marijuana is well taken. However, US prisons, though often awful, are not in the same class as NK prisons, which can be torture chambers.

As @flutherother says, for whatever reasons, he’s now become a diplomatic token.

I also think the 15-year prison/labor/abuse penalty for messing with a poster, is ridiculous.

If I were emperor of the USA and could do as I pleased, then after forcing Canada to clean up the Tar Sands and forcing Brazil to stop harming the Amazon Rainforest and indigenous people, etc., I’d eventually get around to “liberating” the bejeezus out of North Korea, or insisting China do it. There is far too much needless suffering there.

Unofficial_Member's avatar

I prefer to see this situation in different light. How do we know so much updated, detailed-information about North Korea, their environment, their people’s lifestyle, etc? It’s because some brave souls risk their lives to document these things in North Korea (and possibly having to disguise their identity as tourist in the process).

CWOTUS's avatar

Nice try, @Unofficial_Member, but I doubt if this kid was recruited as a CIA field agent.

Perhaps most of what we know from North Korea – aside from the intelligence put together via satellite photos and other remote surveillance – comes from its own citizens who have managed the far braver (and more desperate) act of 1) living in North Korea until they find that they no longer can, and then 2) escaping and telling their stories.

Drunken college students, not so much.

MollyMcGuire's avatar

Bingo! What are people thinking?

JLeslie's avatar

I feel that he is an idiot to steal anything in a foreign country, let alone a country in Asia or Latin America, and North Korea of all places? Really stupid. That is if he actually did it.

It reminds me of Lisa Ling’s sister and a friend winding up in jail for crossing the border into North Korea. I believe they did it on purpose, I think it was stupid and childish and they were really incredibly lucky they had a sister fairly well known in the TV and news world and that she worked for an outlet that the current presidential administration was on great terms with.

Is years of hard labor extreme? By most western standards it certainly is. Some Arab countries will cut off your hand.

Jak's avatar

Just a note of caution here. Again, we don’t really know what happened. He could have taken a poster, sure. He could have been taking pictures. He could have inadvertently stumbled on to something completely other. I would just remind us all that the media seems to be nothing more than a tool used to shape public opinion, so I wouldn’t automatically lend credit to all of its assertions. Just sayin’.

Coloma's avatar

@Jak Agreed. Might have been as simple as he wanted the damn poster for a souvenir with no mischief or criminal intent intended. Hell, I was tempted at age 50 to smuggle back some contraband fireworks form Asia for my 20 something daughter and her boyfriend, I didn’t as it, obviously, was not my highest choice, but I thought about it. I also had a baggy of Taiwanese Tide explode on the customs conveyor belt when my luggage was being searched.

Fortunately it was laundry detergent and I was not detained. ” No really, it’s not heroin!”
They could have made it whatever they wanted, luckily they did

Unofficial_Member's avatar

@CWOTUS I was not saying that he’s part of some sort of secret intelligence organization, any foreigners who visit North Korea should have strong reason to do so even if they have different things inside their agenda.

I was referring to people who have actually visited North Korea for the very purpose of documentation. Not every information about North Korea can be taken via satellite. Many in-depth stories were taken from brave journalists and photographers who had visited North Korea themselves.

For your first point might be true but in order for them to do such thing (which is considered as treason) they most likely need to find an especially trusted foreigners, who most likely, happen to visit their place for documentation, as leaving North Korea is virtually impossible for its citizen.

For your second point to happen they need to leave North Korea first, which, of course, isn’t an option made available to North Korean citizen (haven’t you heard that North Korean borders are heavily barricaded to prevent its citizen from escaping?).

CWOTUS's avatar

In all of the stories that I’ve read about Norks escaping from the country, @Unofficial_Member, not one of them – not a single one – involved contact with a visitor to the country who helped them get out. You’re correct that the country is set up as a prison camp on a national scale, and it is exceedingly difficult, dangerous and often deadly to attempt to get out, but those who do generally do it on their own, by crossing the Yalu River into China (which doesn’t get them home free, because China is nearly as intent as DPRK on keeping the flow to a minimum, lest it wind up with a huge humanitarian crisis within its borders), and then paying the equivalent of Chinese coyotes (people smugglers) and sex traffickers who may eventually get them to Mongolia, from whence they can complete a journey that eventually lands them in South Korea.

You should read about it sometime. You can start here.

Jak's avatar

There are actually some churches that help some escape. I was just reading in Nat Geo, I think.

Coloma's avatar

@Jak I dunno, maybe 15 years hard labor is preferable to fending off conversion. lol

Jak's avatar

@coloma, I guess some don’t expect to make converts, they’re just trying to help. Some, not all of course. Still, they’re risking their own lives to help, and that’s a lot more than any other groups out there.

Coloma's avatar

@Jak True, couldn’t resist a little levity there though, haha

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