Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday that Otto Warmbier, an American student detained in North Korea, has been released.
North Korean state-run media said early last year that Warmbier was arrested for what they described as “a hostile act" against the regime. He was sentenced in March 2016 to 15 years in prison with hard labor. He reportedly was detained for trying to remove a propaganda banner from his hotel.
Multiple reports indicate that Warmbier fell into a coma the same month he was sentenced.
In a statement, Tillerson said that “At the direction of the president, the Department of State has secured the release of Otto Warmbier from North Korea.”
“Mr. Warmbier is en route to the United States, where he will be reunited with his family,” he said. “The Department of State continues to have discussions with the DPRK regarding three other U.S. citizens reported detained. Out of respect for the privacy of Mr. Warmbier and his family, we have no further comment on Mr. Warmbier.”
Tillerson reiterated the statement during remarks at a Senate hearing Tuesday:
Sec. Tillerson on release of U.S. student Otto Warmbier from North Korea: "He is on his way en route home to be reunited with his family." pic.twitter.com/GCr9r8lyUj
— ABC News (@ABC) June 13, 2017
According to the Washington Post, North Korean officials contacted American counterparts last week to tell them Warmbier was in a coma. President Donald Trump ordered Warmbier’s medical evacuation, and the North Koreans agreed.
A University of Virginia student, Warmbier, 22, is due to arrive home in Cincinnati on Tuesday evening.
Warmbier’s father Fred Warmbier told the Washington Post that “our son is coming home.”
“At the moment, we’re just treating this like he’s been in an accident,” he said. “We get to see our son Otto tonight.”
Warmbier left North Korea on the same day that former NBA basketball player Dennis Rodman came to the country for the fifth time.