North Korea sentences U.S. student to 15 years’ hard labor

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(CNN) — North Korea has sentenced American student Otto Frederick Warmbier to 15 years hard labor for crimes against the state, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported Wednesday.

The sentence was handed down by the country’s Supreme Court, Xinhua said in one-line dispatch datelined Pyongyang.

In an emotional press conference last month, the 21-year old student at the University of Virginia admitted to attempting to steal a banner with a political slogan from his hotel in the North Korean capital. It is not known whether Warmbier made the admission under duress.

Appearing to read from a statement, he said: “I committed the crime of taking down a political slogan from the staff holding area of the Yanggakdo International Hotel.”

“I never, never should have allowed myself to be lured by the United States administration to commit a crime in this country,” he said tearfully, as he begged for forgiveness.

“I wish that the United States administration never manipulate people like myself in the future to commit crimes against foreign countries. I entirely beg you, the people and government of the DPRK, for your forgiveness. Please! I made the worst mistake of my life!”

The North Korean government alleges Warmbier was encouraged to commit the “hostile act” by a purported member of an Ohio church, a secretive university organization and even the CIA.

He was arrested on January 2, 2016, as he was about to board a plane to leave the country.

Heightened tensions

Some North Korea watchers have accused the regime of using detained U.S. citizens as political pawns. Tensions have been particularly fraught on the Korean peninsula in recent weeks.

On Tuesday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered tests of a nuclear warhead in the “nearest future,” state-run news agency KCNA said. The order came after the U.N. Security Council imposed tough sanctions against North Korea after its nuclear test in January and satellite launch the following month.

Last week, North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles toward the sea.

The aggravation comes during eight weeks of joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea, billed as the largest ever.