The New York Times reports that an American college student has been detained in North Korea after allegedly committing a “hostile act” while visiting the country as a tourist. The student, identified as Otto Frederick Warmbier, is currently being held in Pyongyang.
North Korea’s Central News Agency says that Warmbier has been accused of entering North Korea with the intent of “bringing down the foundation of its single-minded unity.” The Chinese tour group Warmbier was traveling with, Young Pioneer Tours, confirmed in a statement on its website today that he has been detained:
We can confirm that the reports that one of our clients is being detained in Pyongyang are true. Their family have been informed and we are in contact with the Swedish Embassy, (who act as the protecting interest for U.S citizens), who are working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to address the case. We are also assisting the U.S Department of State closely with regards to the situation. In the meantime we would appreciate Otto’s and his family’s privacy being respected and we hope his release can be secured as soon as possible.
According to the Times, Warmbier is a member of the University of Virginia’s class of 2017. His apparent Facebook account shows that he’s from Cincinnati and a member of the Theta Chi fraternity. He’s studying economics, per the Times.
Mark Toner, a deputy spokesperson at the State Department, told the BBC that the department is “aware of media reports that a US citizen was detained in North Korea” and is working with the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang to secure his release.
In general, the State Department “strongly recommends against all travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea” because of the risk of arrest and long-term detention. As the Times notes, North Korea is currently holding at least two other Westerners.