US student Otto Warmbier 'stole propaganda' in N Korea

  • 29 February 2016
  • From the section Asia
Media captionOtto Warmbier appeared on state TV apparently confessing to the crime

A US student who was arrested in North Korea has appeared on state media admitting to trying to steal a piece of propaganda from a hotel.

In his first appearance since his arrest last month, an emotional Otto Warmbier said he was asked by a US church to bring back the "trophy".

Mr Warmbier, a 21-year-old University of Virginia student, had been on a tourist trip to North Korea in January.

He was arrested on 2 January as he was about to leave.

At the time, North Korea said the US government had "tolerated and manipulated" him. He was charged with committing a "hostile act".

'Worst mistake of my life'

At a news conference in Pyongyang, Mr Warmbier said a member of the Friendship United Methodist Church had promised to give him a used car worth $10,000 (£7,200) if he brought back a propaganda sign from his North Korea trip.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Mr Warmbier was brought into the news conference by guards but not restrained, and with his head bowed.

"I committed the crime of taking down a political slogan from the staff holding area of the Yanggakdo International Hotel," North Korea's KCNA news agency quoted him as saying.

"The aim of my task was to harm the motivation and work ethic of the Korean people. This was a very foolish aim," he was quoted as saying.

He said his crime was "very severe and pre-planned" and that he "never should have allowed myself to be lured by the United States administration to commit a crime in this country".

CNN, which received a copy of the video, said he sobbed as he begged for forgiveness, saying he had made "the worst mistake of my life".

It was not clear whether he had made the statement voluntarily, but foreign detainees in North Korea have previously recanted confessions, saying they were made under pressure.

The US state department strongly advises Americans against travelling to North Korea, which sometimes uses the detention of foreigners as a means of exerting pressure on its adversaries.

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