International: American student released by North Korea 'in a coma'

Tuesday, June 13, 2017 - 09:00

American university student Otto Warmbier imprisoned in North Korea has been medically evacuated in a coma, according to his parents.

Mr Warmbier, 22, is due to arrive home in Cincinnati on Tuesday evening, after a stop at a US military facility in Sapporo, Japan.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement that: "At the direction of [Donald Trump], the Department of State has secured the release". No further details were provided. Mr Warmbier's parents, Fred and Cindy, said in a statement  that they have been told their son has been in a coma since March 2016, and they had learned of this only one week ago. 

They said: “We want the world to know how we and our son have been brutalised and terrorised by the pariah regime” in North Korea. 

They also said they are grateful he “will finally be with people who love him.” 

Mr Warmbier, a student at the University of Virginia, went with a tour group from Beijing to Pyongyang in January 2016 despite US State Department travel warnings.

He was arrested and convicted while trying to leave the country after his group's “New Year’s Party Tour”.

The charge, according to North Korean news agency, was “perpetrating a hostile act against" the Democratic People's Republic of Korea - the official name for the reclusive Communist nation.

Mr Warmbier allegedly attempted to steal a propaganda banner from the hotel in which he was staying, but it remains unclear whether this is true. 

Approximately six weeks after his arrest - in March 2016 - the Ohio native was sentenced to 15 years hard labour.