A federal judge in the United States on Monday ordered North Korea to pay $501 million (Rs 3,519 crore) in damages to the parents of a college student who was detained in the country for 17 months, Reuters reported. North Korea had released the student, Otto Warmbier, in a comatose state in June 2017, but he died within a week of returning home.
In March 2016, North Korea had sentenced Warmbier to 15 years of hard labour for stealing a propaganda sign from a hotel. The 22-year-old University of Virginia student was convicted of “subversive activities” by the country’s Supreme Court. The US had appealed for his release, saying he would not have faced the same charges for the offence anywhere else in the world.
Warmbier was flown to Ohio on June 13, 2017, after North Korea announced that it was releasing him for “humanitarian” reasons. Doctors at a hospital in Ohio declared him comatose soon after his arrival, and concluded that he had likely suffered a massive trauma to the head while he was detained. An autopsy showed that he died from lack of oxygen and blood to the brain.
“North Korea is liable for the torture, hostage taking, and extrajudicial killing of Otto Warmbier, and the injuries to his mother and father, Fred and Cindy Warmbier,” US District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Beryl Howell said. The student’s parents had sued North Korea in April.
Pyongyang had denied torturing him and had blamed botulism and an ingestion of a sleeping pill for the death.
“We are thankful that the United States has a fair and open judicial system so that the world can see that the Kim [Jong-un] regime is legally and morally responsible for Otto’s death,” the parents said in a statement. “We put ourselves and our family through the ordeal of a lawsuit and public trial because we promised Otto that we will never rest until we have justice for him.”
Monday’s judgement is a “default” order, which is passed against a party that does not appear in court. It is mostly symbolic as North Korea hasn’t responded to the allegations in court and there is no mechanism in place to force it to pay.