Otto Warmbier, a 21-year-old University of Virginia student detained in North Korea since January, broke down and begged for forgiveness for committing a "severe crime" at a government-arranged news conference Monday.
Warmbier, who was detained on Jan. 2 for what North Korea called a "hostile act against the state," said he had "made the worst mistake" of his life by stealing a political banner from the hotel he was staying at.
Warmbier was touring North Korea with a China-based tour company when he was detained at the Pyongyang International Airport on Jan. 2 before he was to board a flight to Beijing.
According to the state news media, Warmbier was in North Korea with the intent of "bringing down the foundation of its single-minded unity," The New York Times reported.
"I committed my crime of taking out the important political slogan from the staff-only area of the Yanggakdo International Hotel, aimed at harming the work ethic and the motivation of the Korean people," Warmbier read out from a prepared statement.
Warmbier said a member of the Friendship United Methodist Church church in Ohio offered him a used car worth $10,000 for bringing the political banner back with him to the U.S., according to the Korean Central News Agency. Warmbier also said that a member of the secretive Z Society at his school promised him membership if he promoted the group's goal of eliminating tyranny, the agency said.
"I apologize to each and every one of the millions of the Korean people and I beg that you see how I was used and manipulated," Warmbier said at the news conference Monday. "My reward for my crime was so much smaller than the rewards that the Z Society and the Friendship United Methodist Church get from the United States Administration."
"I have been very impressed by the Korean government's humanitarian treatment of severe criminal like myself and of their very fair and square legal procedures in the DPR Korea," Warmbier said.
He also said he had been "manipulated" by the U.S. government. "I never, never should have allowed myself to be lured by the United States administration to commit a crime in this country. I wish that the United States administration never manipulate people like myself in the future to commit crimes against foreign countries."
"I understand the severity of my crime and I have no idea what sort of penalty I may face but I am begging the Korean people and government for my forgiveness and I’m praying to the heavens so that I may be returned home to my family," Warmbier said.
The 21-year-old then broke down, saying, "I entirely beg you and the government of DPR Korea for your forgiveness. Please I've made the worst mistake of my life, but please act to save me. Please. Think of my family."
It is unclear if Warmbier was forced to attend the news conference and apologize but a North Korean official told CNN that he held the conference "at his own request."
Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Tasneem Nashrulla at email@example.com.
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