North Korea on Friday denied reports that it had mistreated the former U.S. detainee Otto Warmbier and described his sudden death as a “mystery”, in the country’s first public statement since the announcement of the 22-year-old’s death on Wednesday.
In a statement by a DPRK Foreign Ministry spokesman carried by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the North Korean representative claimed the country has been the victim of a “smear campaign” by the U.S. as part of a “frantic effort” to impose “heinous sanctions”.
“The fact that Warmbier died suddenly in less than a week just after his return to the U.S. in his normal state of health indicators is a mystery to us as well,” the statement said.
Warmbier was suddenly released from North Korea last week, having spent 17 months in detention in the DPRK.
It was soon revealed, however, that he was in a coma and in very poor health – a situation the North Koreans reportedly told his family was due to botulism and having taken a sleeping pill.
But doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center in the U.S. said on June 15 they could not find evidence he had contracted the rare disease, though they did find signs of a “severe neurological injury.”
Repeating claims made last week that Warmbier was released from imprisonment in North Korea on “humanitarian” grounds, the statement insisted that Warmbier had been a “criminal” and that his 15-year sentence to “reform through labor” had been appropriate.
“Although we had no reason at all to show mercy to such a criminal of the enemy state, we provided him with medical treatments and care with all sincerity on humanitarian basis until his return to the U.S., considering that his health got worse,” the statement read.
In response to claims in some U.S. outlets that Warmbier had been subject to torture during his detainment in North Korea, the statement said such accusations were “groundless”.
“The American doctors who came to the DPRK for repatriation of Warmbier will have something to say about it,” it said. “They recognized that his health indicators like pulse, temperature, respiration and the examination result of the heart and lung were all normal and that we provided him with medical treatment.”
The statement also appears to imply that Warmbier had suffered cardiac arrest at some point during his detention in North Korea, saying that DPRK doctors had “brought him back alive whose heart was nearly stopped.”
While the Doctors at University of Cincinnati Health Center said that while the cause of his condition was unknown – the severe brain injury he suffered found could have been caused by a cardiac arrest.
“This pattern of brain injury however, is usually seen as a result of cardiopulmonary arrest where the blood supply to the brain is inadequate for a period of time resulting in the death of brain tissue,” Doctor Daniel Kanter said at a press conference on June 15.
The DPRK statement also blamed the Obama administration for the student’s death.
“Warmbier is a victim of policy of ‘strategic patience’ of Obama who was engrossed in utmost hostility and negation against the DPRK and refused to have dialogue with the DPRK,” it adds.
“Why the U.S. government which claims to care about the welfare of its citizens had not even once made an official request for the release of Warmbier on humanitarian basis during the Obama administration? The answer should be given by the U.S. itself.”
A spokesperson for the former President on Wednesday responded to accusations that the former President did not do enough to secure Warmbier’s release.
“During the course of the Obama Administration, we had no higher priority than securing the release of Americans detained overseas,” Obama spokesman Ned Price said in a statement. “Their tireless efforts resulted in the release of at least 10 Americans from North Korean custody during the course of the Obama administration.”
“It is painful that Mr. Warmbier was not among them, but our efforts on his behalf never ceased, even in the waning days of the administration,” added Price, who served as National Security Council spokesperson during Obama’s administration. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Warmbier’s family and all who had the blessing of knowing him.”
Warmbier’s family announced his death on Tuesday afternoon local time.
Edited by Hamish Macdonald
Featured Image: Pyongyang Dusk by m•o•m•o on 2012-03-10 01:06:38