The parents of Otto Frederick Warmbier, an American college student detained in North Korea, are “greatly relieved’ now that they’ve seen pictures of him for the first time in nearly two months.
“We had not heard from him during these many weeks, so you can imagine how deeply worried we were and what a traumatic experience this has been for us,” Fred and Cindy Warmbier said in a statement released Monday. “He seems to be in good health, although we won’t know for sure about his condition until we have a chance to speak with him.”
North Korea allowed the world to get its first glimpse of Warmbier, a student at the University of Virginia, two months after his arrest.
Warmbier is accused of trying to steal a North Korean banner, containing a political slogan that was hanging from the walls of his Pyongyang hotel.
A North Korean official with direct knowledge of Warmbier’s case says the 21-year-old held a news conference “at his own request” Monday morning at the People’s Palace of Culture in Pyongyang.
The event provided insight into the bizarre charges he is facing in the secretive Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK, including allegations that he was encouraged to commit the “hostile act” by a purported member of an Ohio church, a secretive university organization and even the CIA.
The U.S. State Department said it was aware of media reports the U.S. citizen was detained in North Korea but declined to comment further “due to privacy considerations.”
In a video supplied to CNN, North Korean guards escorted Warmbier into the room. He was not restrained and was wearing dark trousers, a light-colored blazer, shirt and tie.
Appearing to read from a statement, Warmbier said: “I committed the crime of taking down a political slogan from the staff holding area of the Yanggakdo International Hotel.” It is not known if the student was forced to speak.
“I apologize to each and every one of the millions of the Korean people, and I beg that you see how I was used and manipulated,” he said. “My reward for my crime was so much smaller than the rewards that the Z Society and the Friendship United Methodist Church get from the United States administration.”
Warmbier is also seen in the video sobbing and pleading for forgiveness, and bowing deeply to apologize.
“I never, never should have allowed myself to be lured by the United States administration to commit a crime in this country. 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!”
Warmbier’s parents have asked the North Korean government to accept his apology and “consider his youth and make an important humanitarian gesture by allowing him to return to his loved ones.”