The UVA student detained in North Korea last month for allegedly committing a “hostile act” against the country publicly apologized for making “the worst mistake of [his] life” February 29 at a government-arranged news conference in Pyongyang.
Otto Franklin Warmbier, a third-year commerce student, Echols scholar and Theta Chi fraternity brother, was visiting North Korea with the Chinese travel agency Young Pioneer Tours when he was arrested at an airport on the last day of his trip.
The UVA student admitted to taking a banner with an “important political slogan” from a staff-only area of his hotel, the Yanggakdo International, on January 1. Charges against him say he was encouraged to take the banner by a member of an Ohio church, a secretive university organization and the C.I.A., according to the New York Times.
In his statement, Warmbier said he attempted to take the banner as a trophy for a member of a church who wanted to hang it on the church’s wall. He identified the church as the Friendship United Methodist Church in Wyoming, Ohio, and said the church member agreed to buy Warmbier a used car worth $10,000 for bringing back the banner, or pay his mother $200,0000 if Warmbier was detained and didn’t return, according to the Korean Central News Agency. Warmbier added that a member of UVA’s secret Z Society also encouraged him to take the banner and promised him membership in the society.
“I beg that you see how I was used and manipulated,” Warmbier said at the news conference, according to CNN. “I was used by the United States administration like many before.”
In a video of the conference, edited and posted by the Associated Press, Warmbier can be seen sobbing and pleading for his release.
“I am begging to the Korean people and government for my forgiveness,” he said, adding that he has no idea what kind of penalty he could face.