North Korea insists US student Warmbier was not tortured

Ohio coroner said he died from lack of oxygen and blood to brain caused by unknown injury

 Otto Frederick Warmbier (C), a University of Virginia student  is taken to North Korea’s top court in Pyongyang in March, 2016. Photograph: Kyodo/Reuters

Otto Frederick Warmbier (C), a University of Virginia student is taken to North Korea’s top court in Pyongyang in March, 2016. Photograph: Kyodo/Reuters


North Korea said on Thursday that American student Otto Warmbier had suffered no torture during his 17-month detention, a day after an Ohio coroner said he died from lack of oxygen and blood to the brain caused by an unknown injury.

Sentenced to 15 years of hard labour for trying to take an item bearing a propaganda slogan from his hotel, the University of Virginia student was held by North Korea from January 2016 until his release on June 15th.

Mr Warmbier (22) died days after arriving in the United States and his parents said that their son had been tortured while in North Korea.

North Korea had provided medical care to Mr Warmbier despite his “hostile acts” against the country, and claims of torture are groundless slander aimed at opposing the North, North Korea’s foreign ministry spokesman was quoted as saying by the state-run KCNA news agency.

A coroner has said her office could not determine what led to the fatal brain damage of a young man who was detained in North Korea for more than a year. While the parents of Mr Warmbier and President Donald Trump have accused the North Korean government of torturing him, Dr Lakshmi Sammarco said evidence has led to no “scientific facts” to explainMr Warmbier’s death.

“We don’t know what happened to him, and this is the bottom line,” she said, adding the cause of the death may never be known. A coroner’s report dated September 11 shows the cause of death for the University of Virginia student as complications from brain-damaging oxygen deprivation through “an unknown insult more than a year prior to death”.

The medical term for his condition was called “chronic anoxic/ischemic encephalopathy” and the manner of death was listed as “undetermined”.

While Mr Warmbier’s family declined an autopsy, Ms Sammarco said her office used extensive medical scanning and imaging for a “virtual autopsy” and that nothing more would have been gained by doing an autopsy so long after his brain damage occurred.

‘Tortured and destroyed’

Mr Warmbier’s parents told a Fox News TV show that North Korea tortured and “destroyed” him.

Mr Trump tweeted afterwards: “Otto was tortured beyond belief by North Korea”. His tweet added to a series of recent accusations and heated exchanges between his administration and North Korean officials.

North Korea has denied mistreating Mr Warmbier, who was sentenced to 15 years of hard labour in March 2016 for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster two months earlier.

North Korea has claimed Mr Warmbier fell into a coma that resulted from botulism and a sleeping pill.

Ms Sammarco agreed with University of Cincinnati Health system doctors who treated Mr Warmbier and said they found no evidence of botulism or evidence of fractures or healing fractures that might point to beatings.

She said a forensic dentist agreed with her conclusion there was “no evidence of trauma” to Mr Warmbier’s teeth.

Fred Warmbier said his son’s mouth “looked like someone had taken a pair of pliers and rearranged his bottom teeth”.

Ms Sammarco said Mr Warmbier’s body, including his skin, was in surprisingly good condition for someone who had reportedly been bedridden for more than a year, indicating he received regular care.

Her office’s report said his body appeared “well-nourished”, and there were multiple scars and bruises, some apparently stemming from medical procedures.

He died in Cincinnati in June 2017, less than a week after his return to the US. The parents, for the first time, described the condition his family found him in when they went aboard an air ambulance that arrived on June 13 in Cincinnati.

His father said he was making an “involuntary, inhuman sound”, “staring blankly into space jerking violently”, and was blind and deaf with his head shaved.

Doctors said in June that Mr Warmbier was in a state of “unresponsive wakefulness” and had suffered a “severe neurological injury” of uncertain cause.