American student Otto Warmbier was imprisoned in North Korea for over a year.

North Korea Denies Torturing Jewish Prisoner

(JTA) — North Korea has denied torturing Otto Warmbier, the American college student who was detained in the country for over a year and died shortly after returning home in a coma.

A North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman on Friday called itself the “biggest victim” of the incident, insisting that Warmbier’s death was a mystery.

“The fact that Warmbier died suddenly in less than a week after his return to the U.S. in his normal state of health indicators is a mystery to us as well,” the spokesman was quoted as saying by the official Korean Central News Agency. “To make it clear, we are the biggest victim of this incident.”

The spokesman also said that the Obama administration never officially requested Warmbier’s release and refused to establish any kind of dialogue with North Korea. It is the first official comments by the country on the state in which it returned Warmbier to his family.

The 22-year-old was sentenced in the country to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a propaganda poster on what North Korea claimed were orders from an Ohio Methodist church.

Warmbier, whose mother is Jewish, became active in the Hillel after a Birthright trip to Israel, during which he received a Hebrew name. A spokesman for the family said this week that they chose not to disclose his Judaism during negotiations for his release so as not to antagonize North Korea, which believed he was affiliated with the church.

Some 2,000 people attended a funeral for Warmbier on Thursday at Wyoming High School in Warmbier’s hometown near Cincinnati.

The spokesman said that North Korea treated Warmbier appropriately during his imprisonment.

“Although we had no reason at all to show mercy to such a criminal of the enemy state, we provided him with medical treatments and care with all sincerity on humanitarian basis until his return to the U.S., considering that his health got worse,” the spokesman said.

The country said that Warmbier slipped into a coma after contracting botulism and taking a sleeping pill, and that he had to be resuscitated. The University of Cincinnati Medical Center said it found no signs of botulism, but that he may have suffered severe neurological damage, possibly as a result of cardiopulmonary arrest, according to the Washington Post.

Author

Your Comments

The Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. All readers can browse the comments, and all Forward subscribers can add to the conversation. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Forward requires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not and will be deleted. Egregious commenters or repeat offenders will be banned from commenting. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and the Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Recommend this article

North Korea Denies Torturing Jewish Prisoner

Thank you!

This article has been sent!

Close