The court sentenced the student, Otto Warmbier, on Wednesday for
"crimes against the state", North Korean media reported.
The United States condemned the punishment as politically motivated
and called on North Korea to pardon the University of Virginia
student from Wyoming, Ohio, and release him on humanitarian grounds.
The sentencing came as North Korea is increasingly isolated and
facing tough new U.N. resolutions following a nuclear test in
January and a rocket launch last month. A White House spokesman said
it was "increasingly clear" North Korea sought to use U.S. citizens
as pawns to pursue a political agenda.
North Korean state media said Warmbier had tried to steal an item
bearing a political slogan. A state media picture showed a banner,
presented as evidence during his one-hour trial, appearing to bear a
slogan extolling the country's late leader.
Although the name was censored in the photograph, it is likely the
slogan read: "Let's arm ourselves strongly with Kim Jong Il
The phrase "Kim Jong Il Patriotism" was used heavily to glorify the
late leader after he died in 2011. The slogan has been described by
his son and successor, Kim Jong Un, as the "crystallization of
Images and references to North Korea's leaders, who are treated with
almost god-like status in propaganda, are sacrosanct.
Ordinary North Koreans are required to keep and carefully maintain
portraits of former leaders Kim Jong Il and his father, Kim Il Sung.
A special large, bold typeface is used when their names are printed.
The court showed still CCTV images of Warmbier, 21, entering a
staff-only part of the Yanggakdo International Hotel, which towers
above the capital, Pyongyang, from an island in the middle of the
Warmbier was at the end of a five-day group tour when he was stopped
at the airport and taken away, according to the tour operator that
arranged the trip.
In a statement last month, Warmbier confessed to "severe crimes"
against the state.
FOOTAGE AND FINGERPRINTS
Warmbier entered the restricted area of the hotel in the early hours
of Jan. 1, according to a time stamp on a CCTV image used as part of
witness testimony to identify Warmbier.
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That witness was Warmbier's North Korean tour guide, identified as
Mr Byon, sources who recognized him confirmed to Reuters after
studying the footage.
The shirt and boots worn by Warmbier at the time along with his
passport, mobile phone and an ID card were also given as evidence in
the trial, the footage showed.
"When I got off work, there was nothing amiss," a second witness,
apparently a hotel staff member, told the court.
"But when I returned, I thought someone had deliberately taken the
slogan down, so I mobilized security to prevent damage to it and
reported it to the authorities."
The court showed images on a flat screen showing efforts to match
fingerprints from the banner with Warmbier's fingerprints.
Photos of the trial showed Warmbier marking copies of indictment and
sentencing documents with red ink on his thumb.
As he was led from the court in handcuffs, Warmbier appeared to turn
to Swedish ambassador to North Korea Torkel Stiernlöf, who was
present at the trial, and ask him to "keep working" on his case,
according to the footage.
The United States does not have diplomatic relations with North
Korea and is represented in consular matters there by the Swedish
North Korea has a long history of detaining foreigners and has used
jailed Americans in the past to extract high-profile visits from the
United States to secure their release.
(Editing by Tony Munroe, Robert Birsel)
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