North Korean officials, in their first remarks responding to the death of American student Otto Warmbier, are calling themselves the “biggest victim” in the tragedy and accusing the U.S of corroborating with South Korea in a “smear campaign.”
The North’s official state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) released a statement from an unidentified foreign ministry official in Pyongyang on Friday, defending their actions and insisting that although the country “had no reason at all to show mercy to such a criminal of the enemy state,” Warmbier was provided with “medical treatments and care with all sincerity on humanitarian basis until his return to the U.S.”
“The fact that Warmbier died suddenly in less than a week just after his return to the U.S., is a mystery to us as well," the statement continues, noting that his health indicators were “normal” at the time of release.
Warmbier died June 19, just days after being returned to the U.S. in a coma after having been detained in North Korea in early 2016 on allegations of stealing a propaganda poster. U.S. doctors noted that Warmbier had suffered extensive brain damage, but could not determine the cause. He was laid to rest on Thursday, but no autopsy was performed, due to his family’s wishes.
North Korea officials claimed the 22-year-old, who is believed to have been in a comatose state for more than a year, contracted botulism and fell into a coma after being given a sleeping bill. However, doctors have rejected such an explanation and his parents also have refuted those claims – instead vowing that their son was “brutalized and terrorized” while imprisoned.
The Foreign ministry official does not address the cause of Warmbier's coma, and goes on to call any speculation of torture or abuse as “groundless.”
“To make it clear, we are the biggest victim of this incident and there would be no more foolish judgment than to think we do not know how to calculate gains and losses,” the statement adds. “The smear campaign against (North Korea) staged in the U.S. compels us to make firm determination that humanitarianism and benevolence for the enemy are taboo and we should further sharpen the blade of law.”
Nonetheless, the Virginia university student’s coma and death has ignited outrage in the U.S. toward the regime of Kim Jong Un, with President Trump condemning the nation’s “brutality.”
As it stands, three American citizens – all ethnic Koreans – are still being detained in the North. The State Department strongly discourages travel to North Korea, but is reportedly mulling a full travel ban for U.S citizens to the increasingly hostile dictatorship.