University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier died on Monday in a Cincinnati hospital only days after being released in a coma from 17 months of detention in North Korea, his family said in a statement. Warmbier, 22, who was arrested in North Korea while visiting as a tourist, had been described by doctors who examined him last week as having suffered extensive brain damage that left him in a state of “unresponsive wakefulness.“Physicians said last Thursday that Warmbier had shown no sign of understanding language or of awareness of his surroundings, and had made no “purposeful movements or behaviours.”The circumstances of his detention in North Korea, and what medical treatment he received there, remained a mystery. But relatives have said his condition suggests he was physically abused by his captors.
“Unfortunately, the awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans ensured that no other outcome was possible beyond the sad one we experienced today,” the family said in a statement following Warmbier’s death at 2:20 p.m.His family has said that Warmbier had lapsed into a coma in March 2016, shortly after he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labour in North Korea.He was arrested, according to North Korean media, for trying to steal an item bearing a propaganda slogan. North Korea released Warmbier last week, saying he was being freed “on humanitarian grounds.” The North Korean mission to the United Nations was not immediately available for comment.
The University of Virginia student’s father, Fred Warmbier, said last week that his son had been “brutalized and terrorized by the Pyongyang government and that the family disbelieved North Korea’s story that his son had fallen into a coma after contracting botulism and being given a sleeping pill.Doctors who examined Otto Warmbier after his release said there was no sign of botulism in his system.Warmbier was freed after the U.S.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 secret diplomatic contacts, a U.S. official said last week.
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