North Korea releases US student in coma

Otto  Warmbier taken to North Korea's top court in Pyongyang, North Korea in 2016.
Otto Warmbier taken to North Korea's top court in Pyongyang, North Korea in 2016. Photo credit: Reuters

An American student just released from detention in North Korea has spent more than a year in a coma as the result of botulism, CNN reports.

Parents of 22-year-old Otto Warmbier were given the news last week. 

They have condemned North Korea as a brutal pariah regime that has terrorised their son and family.

"Otto has left North Korea. He is on Medivac flight on his way home. Sadly, he is in a coma and we have been told he has been in that condition since March of 2016. We learned of this only one week ago," said Fred and Cindy Warmbier in a statement.

"We want the world to know how we and our son have been brutalized and terrorized by the pariah regime in North Korea. We are so grateful that he will finally be with people who love him."

Mr Warmbier was leaving North Korea's Pyongyang after touring the country in March 2016 when he was arrested and detained. Authorities accused him of attempting to steal a banner from his hotel. 

He was sentenced to 15 years' hard labour.

Otto Warmbier attends a news conference in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo February 29, 2016.
Otto Warmbier attends a news conference in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo February 29, 2016. Photo credit: Reuters

Mr Warmbier reportedly contracted botulism, a rare but potentially fatal disease caused by lethal botulinum bacterium. It's usually a foodborne infection, but can also be caused by wound infections or inhalation.

Amnesty International estimates up to 120,000 people are detained in North Korea's political prison camps, were "subjected to systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations such as forced labour, and torture and other ill-treatment − some amounting to crimes against humanity".

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