Warmbier’s Death Puts Focus on North Korean Human Rights Violations
U.S. student Otto Warmbier’s tragic death Monday, after being released from a North Korean prison in a coma, has again put an international focus on the widespread human rights violations allegedly being committed by the Kim Jong Un government.
“This is a government that frankly is a human rights abomination. It is a human rights black hole,” said Phil Robertson, the Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch.
In January of 2016, Warmbier was arrested in Pyongyang for allegedly attempting to steal a propaganda poster at a hotel. He was sentenced to 15 years hard labor, then fell into a coma 15 months ago from which he never awoke.
North Korean officials said the 22-year-old American university student contracted botulism while in custody and was given a sleeping pill that put him into a comatose state. Doctors at the hospital in Cincinnati, where he was being treated after being released, discounted the North Korean account but could not say what caused the severe neurological injury.
"Unfortunately, the awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans ensured that no other outcome was possible beyond the sad one we experienced today," the family said in a statement following his death.
U.S. President Donald Trump offered his condolences to the family in a statement Monday saying, “There is nothing more tragic for a parent than to lose a child in the prime of life.”
The president also said the death deepens his determination to prevent future tragedies "at the hands of regimes that do not respect the rule of law or basic human decency.''
Other U.S. officials issued similar statements of sympathy for the family and outrage at what they described as Warmbier’s brutal, inhumane treatment by the North Korean government.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in issued a statement offering “condolence and consolation” to Warmbier’s family, and also condemned North Korea for detaining foreign nationals without regard for human rights guaranteed under international law.
“North Korea is still detaining our citizens and American citizens, and it needs to return them to their families immediately, and our government will put utmost effort for this,” said South Korean Presidential Office spokesman Park Soo-hyun.
There are six South Koreans currently imprisoned in North Korea. Some were missionaries who were charged with spying and others were reportedly kidnapped by North Korean agents while helping defectors on the Chinese side of the border.
U.S. officials have said they are concerned about three Korean-Americans who remain held in North Korea.
The U.S. government accuses North Korea of using such detainees as political pawns. North Korea accuses Washington and South Korea of sending spies to overthrow its government.
Journalists' Trial Puts Spotlight on Media Freedom in Turkey
In a packed Istanbul courthouse the trial of 17 journalists, accused of being involved in July’s failed coup, got underway Monday. All are facing long sentences, including life if convicted.
Prosecutors allege the journalists belong to a network of followers of the U.S. based Turkish Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey's government blames for the coup attempt.
Nazli Ilicak is a leading newspaper columnist who rejected the accusations, telling the court she was a supporter of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan before he came to power and spent her life opposing coups, pointing out her father was a senior minister who had been jailed following a 1960 military takeover.
The first three hours of Monday’s hearing was taken up reading the more than 200 page indictment. Much of the cited evidence made no reference to the journalists activities, but focused on the cleric Gulen.
Many international and national human rights groups attended Monday’s hearings. "It's very concerning people are really facing serious charges, with potentially three life sentences on the basis of very, very little evidence of criminal acts, and that's really worrying,” warned Amnesty International’s Milena Buyum, speaking after attending the first day of hearings,
Human rights groups accuse Turkey of being the world's worst jailor of journalists, with more than 170 incarcerated since the post coup crackdown. Monday’s hearing is likely to only add to questions over the legitimacy of that crackdown.
But before the trial Erdogan dismissed such criticism, "Whenever we go abroad, Western media outlets come up with the same argument, claiming there are many detained journalists in Turkey. However, according to figures from our Ministry, only two people out of 177 who identify themselves as journalists are holders of a press card. In addition, one of these persons is currently in jail for murder and the others for their involvement in terrorist organizations," Erdogan said in a speech Saturday to national media heads.
The president went on to warn there would be no let up in the crackdown, “I see no difference between those who sell their news headlines with the instructions of a terrorist organization and those who take to the mountains with a gun in their hands,” said Erdogan.