Fred and Cindy Warmbier have filed a lawsuit against the country of North Korea over the death of their son, Otto.
The suit was filed on Thursday in the US District Court in DC, and accuses the communist country of torturing the 22-year-old college student and ultimately causing his untimely death.
In a statement, Fred Warmbier said that Otto “was taken hostage, kept as a prisoner for political purposes, used as a pawn and singled out for exceptionally harsh and brutal treatment by Kim Jong Un.”
He added: “Kim and his regime have portrayed themselves as innocent, while they intentionally destroyed our son’s life. This lawsuit is another step in holding North Korea accountable for its barbaric treatment of Otto and our family.”
With President Trump planning to meet with the North Korean dictator in a matter of weeks, the timing of the suit is noteworthy, if not largely symbolic. Both President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence support the Warmbier’s suit, and the president has vowed to discuss human rights violations with Kim.
Responding to news of the lawsuit, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Trump “spoke clearly about the pain that all Americans felt when we lost Otto Warmbier. That feeling of loss has not changed. Although this is a private legal action to which the United States government is not a party, Americans remain committed to honoring Otto’s memory, and we will not forget the suffering of his parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier.”
Otto Warmbier was arrested in 2016 and sentenced to 15 years hard labor in North Korea after being accused of stealing a propaganda poster while visiting the country on a guided tour. He was released after 17 months, but when he arrived in the US, he was in a coma and never regained consciousness — dying six days after his return home.
His parents said that when Otto arrived, he was making “inhuman noises” like “howling” and “jerking violently.” They also contend that he was blind, deaf, and that it looked like someone had “taken a pair of pliers and rearranged his bottom teeth.”
The North Korean government blamed his condition on botulism and a sleeping pill. An American coroner and University of Cincinnati Health system physicians who treated Warmbier agreed that they found no evidence of torture or botulism. The coroner, Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco said, “We don’t know what happened to him, and this is the bottom line.”
Currently, three Americans are being held in captivity in North Korea.