North Korea: Another victim
The tragic death of Otto Warmbier sharpens the diplomatic debate.
“How safe is it? Extremely safe!”
So read the guidance for North Korea on the website of a Chinese travel company when Otto Warmbier, a 21-year-old American student, signed up for a five-day trip in December 2015.
Mr Warmbier was arrested the next month at the airport in Pyongyang, as he was leaving, and accused of attempting to steal a propaganda placard.
He was tried in March 2016, and sentenced to 15 years' hard labour.
“I have been very impressed by the Korean government's humanitarian treatment of severe criminals like myself,” he said during a televised confession.
The North Korean authorities denied access to Mr Warmbier after his trial.
But on June 13th they released him, in a vegetative state, “on compassionate grounds”, after talks between the North's ambassador to the UN and America's point-man on the country.
He was flown home to Ohio, where he died six days later.
Doctors said he was suffering from a catastrophic brain injury, probably sustained shortly after his trial.
But the cause of the injury is unclear.
The doctors could find no evidence either of the North Korean explanation—botulism, a food-borne disease—or of the obvious alternative, a severe beating.
On past precedent, it seems likely that the harm done to Mr Warmbier was unintended.