Little information released about UVA student arrested in North Korea

UVA's Rotunda. File photo UVA’s Rotunda. File photo

A University of Virginia student is currently detained in North Korea for allegedly committing a “hostile act” against the country.

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, which markets itself as providing “budget tours to destinations your mother would rather you stayed away from.”

The agency did not respond to an inquiry, but confirmed on its blog January 22 that one of its clients is being detained in Pyongyang. Young Pioneer Tours also said the agency has been in contact with the Swedish Embassy, which acts as the protecting interest for U.S. citizens and is working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to address the case.

The U.S. Department of State has confirmed that it will work with the Swedish Embassy to ensure the student’s welfare.

The Washington Post reported Warmbier was detained January 2 at a Pyongyang airport as he was leaving North Korea after a five-day New Year’s Eve trip. Spokesperson Anthony deBrun says UVA “has been in touch with Otto Warmbier’s family and will have no additional comment at this time.”

A statement from the Korean Central News Agency, released January 22, says Warmbier “was arrested while perpetrating a hostile act” against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea “after entering it under the guise of tourist for the purpose of bringing down the foundation of its single-minded unity at the tacit connivance of the U.S. government and under its manipulation,” but did not release any specifics.

Several of Warmbier’s family and friends did not immediately respond to an interview request.