In a grainy, black-and-white video, time-stamped Jan. 1, 1:57 a.m., a shadowy figure in a hallway appears to pull a poster of some sort off a wall and place it on the floor.
This, North Korea claims, is the New Year’s Day theft that earned American Otto Warmbier, a 21-year-old University of Virginia student, a sentence of 15 years of hard labor.
The footage was released after a brief trial Wednesday in North Korea, during which Warmbier admitted stealing the banner. In his tearful confession, Warmbier said he “stole the propaganda poster on behalf of a member of the Friendship United Methodist Church in Wyoming, Ohio, who wanted it ‘as a trophy,’ ” NPR’s Elise Hu reports.
The short video released by state-run Korean Central Television — purporting to show Warmbier’s crime — could be an important development if it does corroborate the confession.
“Previous American detainees have recanted their confessions following their release, saying they were made under duress and detailing how North Korean officials carefully orchestrate the events,” Elise says.
The time stamp on the video is 1:57 a.m. on Jan. 1, which also backs up the state’s story of when Warmbier took the sign.
From the perspective of the U.S. government, however, whether Warmbier took the banner is irrelevant; it says the punishment does not fit the crime.
Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the allegations against Warmbier “would not give rise to arrest or imprisonment in the United States or in just about any other country in the world.”
Earnest also said, “It is increasingly clear that the North Korean government seeks to use these U.S. citizens as pawns to pursue a political agenda.”
Warmbier’s detention comes at a sensitive time for U.S. relations with North Korea, as the country recently tested a pair of medium-range ballistic missiles amid heightened tensions in the region.