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US sanctions three North Korean senior officials for alleged human rights abuses

A close aide to President Kim Jong Un is among those sanctioned

(Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)

The U.S Treasury Department announced Monday its sanctions against three of North Korea's top officials for alleged human rights abuses and censorship.

"Today's actions shine a spotlight on North Korea's reprehensible treatment of those in North Korea, and serve as a reminder of North Korea's brutal treatment of U.S. citizen Otto Warmbier, who passed away 18 months ago," the government said in a press release.

The penalties against the officials are part of the Trump administration's "efforts to highlight North Korea's abysmal human rights record, and to speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves."

Who are the officials?

Choe Ryong Hae, who's seen as the "Number Two" official in control of Kim Jong Un's regime, is among those sanctioned, according to the Treasury Department. Choe, a close aide to Kim, is director of the Organization and Guidance Department for the Workers' Party of Korea.

North Korea Minister of State Security Jong Kyong Thaek has been sanctioned for his role in censorship activities and alleged abuses.

Pak Kwang Ho, director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department, has been sanctioned for his part in "maintaining ideological purity and managing the general censorship functions of the PAD, furthering the suppression of freedom of speech, expression, and censorship."

"These sanctions demonstrate the United States' ongoing support for freedom of expression, and opposition to endemic censorship and human rights abuses," Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said in the release.

The sanctioned officials are banned from the U.S. financial system. It's also illegal for Americans to make any transactions with them.

What happened to Warmbier?

President Donald Trump had pledged to "honor Otto's memory with American resolve" during his 2018 State of the Union address.

North Korean officials arrested Warmbier in January 2016 for allegedly attempting to steal a propaganda poster while visiting Pyongyang during a guided tour. The North Korean government sentenced the then-21-year-old to 15 years of hard labor.

Seventeen months later, Warmbier was returned home in a coma. He died six days later.

Warmbier would have turned 24 on Dec. 12.

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