North Korea Frees US College Student Ahead of NBA Star Visit
North Korea has released from prison an American college student who was sentenced to a 15-year term for attempting to steal a propaganda poster in 2016, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said.
In a statement, Tillerson said Otto Warmbier, 22, has been released from prison and is currently traveling back to the U.S., where he will be reunited with his family.
The Washington Post reported that Warnbier was medically evacuated from North Korea while in a coma. He is due to return home to Cincinnati, Ohio, Tuesday evening. According to the Post, he had been in a coma for over a year.
The announcement of Warmbier’s release came as former basketball star Dennis Rodman traveled Tuesday to North Korea on a trip he said he hopes will “open a door” between U.S. President Donald Trump and leaders in Pyongyang.
Rodman is friends with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. He traveled to North Korea previously in 2013, where he organized a pick-up basketball game that included other former National Basketball Association stars, and sang “Happy Birthday” to Kim.
Kim is reportedly a basketball fan, and in particular a fan of the Chicago Bulls team Rodman played on in the late 1990s.
U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon told reporters the U.S. government is aware of Rodman’s visit, but pointed out that Rodman is travelling as a “private citizen.”
Tillerson did not mention Rodman’s visit in his statement, but said the State Department secured Warmbier’s release at the direction of President Trump. He said the State Department is continuing to try and secure the release of three other Americans still imprisoned in North Korea.
Speaking with the Washington Post, Warmbier’s father, Fred, said he is relieved his son is coming home.