North Korea denies torturing US student Warmbier
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Warmbier's death 'is a mystery to us as well,' claims spokesman

North Korea denies torturing US student Warmbier

Breaking silence on condition of captive after release, Pyongyang accuses Seoul of tarnishing its image with ‘slanderous talk about cruel treatment’

American student Otto Warmbier, center, is escorted at the Supreme Court in Pyongyang, North Korea, March 16, 2016. (AP/Jon Chol Jin)
American student Otto Warmbier, center, is escorted at the Supreme Court in Pyongyang, North Korea, March 16, 2016. (AP/Jon Chol Jin)

North Korea on Friday denied it cruelly treated or tortured an American Jewish student who was detained for more than year and died days after being released in a coma.

It also accused the US of waging a “smear campaign” over the death of Otto Warmbier.

President Donald Trump has slammed the treatment of Warmbier, 22, who spent more than a year in detention in the secretive state, as “a total disgrace”.

“The smear campaign against (North Korea) staged in the US compels us to make firm determination that… we should further sharpen the blade of law”, A foreign ministry spokesman said. “The US should ponder over the consequences to be entailed from its reckless and rash act,” he said in an apparent warning over the fate of three other US citizens currently being held in the country.

The spokesman said that Warmbier was provided with proper medical treatment, and questioned why he died so soon after returning to the US. “The fact that Warmbier died suddenly in less than a week just after his return to the US in his normal state of health indicators is a mystery to us as well,” he said.

An article published earlier Friday by the official Korean Central News Agency was Pyongyang’s first reaction to Warmbier’s death in a US hospital on Monday after North Korea released him for what it said was humanitarian reasons.

Doctors there said Warmbier had suffered a severe neurological injury from an unknown cause. Relatives say they were told the University of Virginia student had been in a coma since shortly after he was sentenced to prison in North Korea in March 2016.

His family and others have blamed North Korea for his condition.

He was serving a sentence of hard labor after being accused of stealing a propaganda poster. KCNA said the North dealt with Warmbier according to domestic law and international standards.

The casket of Otto Warmbier is carried from Wyoming High School after his funeral, Thursday, June 22, 2017, in Wyoming, Ohio. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
The casket of Otto Warmbier is carried from Wyoming High School after his funeral, Thursday, June 22, 2017, in Wyoming, Ohio. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

The article also criticized South Korea for using Warmbier’s case to seek the release of other detainees, including six South Korean nationals. Three Americans also remain in custody in the North.

“Our related institutions are treating criminals who committed crimes against (our) republic strictly based on domestic law and international standards, and Warmbier was no different,” the KCNA said.

The agency accused Seoul of tarnishing Pyongyang’s image with its “slanderous talk about cruel treatment and torture” while having no knowledge of the “humanitarian” treatment Warmbier received in the North.

The agency didn’t provide further details on how Warmbier was treated under detention or what might have caused him to lapse into a coma.

The United States, South Korea and others often accuse North Korea of using foreign detainees to wrest diplomatic concessions.

Fred and Cindy Warmbier greet guest during the funeral for their son Otto Warmbier at Wyoming High School June 22, 2017 in Wyoming, Ohio.(Bill Pugliano/Getty Images/AFP)
Fred and Cindy Warmbier greet guest during the funeral for their son Otto Warmbier at Wyoming High School June 22, 2017 in Wyoming, Ohio.(Bill Pugliano/Getty Images/AFP)

Warmbier was buried Thursday in a funeral attended by thousands in his native Ohio town.

Rabbi Jake Rubin, executive director of the Brody Jewish Center at the University of Virginia, called Warmbier “one of the most intellectually curious people I’ve ever met” during the service, held Thursday at Wyoming High School near Cincinnati.

Jake Rubin, the director of the University of Virginia Hillel, on Dec. 4, 2014 in front of the Hillel building in the vRugby Road neighborhood of Charlottesville, Va. (Ron Kampeas/JTA)
Jake Rubin, the director of the University of Virginia Hillel, on Dec. 4, 2014 in front of the Hillel building in the vRugby Road neighborhood of Charlottesville, Va. (Ron Kampeas/JTA)

A negotiator involved in Warmbier’s release said his Jewishness was hidden as a tactic because he was accused by Pyongyang of acting on behalf of the United Methodist Church.

“The family chose, rightfully so, not to share that information while he was in captivity… because they didn’t want to embarrass [North Korea] by explaining that he actually was Jewish” and thus would not have been affiliated with the church, Mickey Bergman told The Times of Israel.

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