Mimesis Law
30 March 2020

North Korea: Bad Place For Pranks

Mar. 1, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — Getting arrested for college pranks is a rite of passage. Harmless hijinks and “secret missions” have always been a part of college life. What’s a good football rivalry without a mascot getting stolen?

Despite that tradition, it should come as no surprise that emerging world villain, North Korea, has zero sense of humor. And that has led to the arrest of University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier in what is turning out to be a very strange case.

Warmbier finds himself in hot water over an alleged attempt to steal a North Korean political banner. How he ended up in this situation is a mystery. What will happen to him is an even greater mystery.

Young Pioneer Tours is an adventure travel company based in China. Warmbier booked a trip at the end of last year to North Korea, expecting to return home a few days after the new year. Something went wrong on the trip.

According to North Korean officials, Warmbier tried to steal a banner displaying a North Korean political slogan from his hotel in Pyongyang. They claim the banner was too big and he could not take it with him, so Warmbier left it near where it was hanging. He was stopped at the airport as he tried to return to the United States and has been held incommunicado for nearly two months.

At least now we know where Warmbier is. At a disturbing press conference Monday, Warmbier appeared in front of North Korean journalists to make a bizarre confession. According to Warmbier, he was recruited to steal a political slogan by a strange group of bedfellows: a church in Ohio, a secret society at the University of Virginia, and, of course, the C.I.A. Because no whacky conspiracy is complete without the C.I.A. But normally it’s the tin-foil hat crowd talking about the C.I.A., not the government of a country.

“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!”

Neither the church nor the secret society claims to have any connection with Warmbier. As for his motivation, it was money, according to the press conference.

According to the same official, the church member allegedly encouraged Warmbier “to take an important political slogan from North Korea in order to weaken the ideological unity and motivation of the North Koreans” and promised to give him a “$10,000 used car” if the “mission” was successful.

Warmbier said his family’s “very severe financial difficulties” made him do it. “I started to consider this as my only golden opportunity to earn money,” he said, adding that his family would not be paid if he mentioned the church’s involvement.

Interesting. A commerce major at one of the most prestigious universities in the United States thinks his only real opportunity to make money is stealing a political banner in a communist country in exchange for a used car.

You can’t make this stuff up. Unless, of course, you made it up. Which is how the North Korean government operates. A couple of years ago, Merrill Newman, an American veteran, visited North Korea. He was detained by officials for committing war crimes during the Korean War. Newman was stopped at the airport as he left and held captive for several weeks at the Yanggakdo Hotel, the same place Warmbier is accused of trying to steal the banner.

Newman confessed to a number of crimes against the North Koreans, like Warmbier. Did Newman confess because was actually spying in North Korea? Of course not.

“You make a confession because you don’t have any choice,” Mr. Newman said in [his book about the incident].

Until yesterday, no one had seen or heard from Warmbier since January 2nd when he was detained by North Korean officials. The North Korean government has had quite a bit of time to work on him and his “confession.” Like Newman said, you confess because you don’t have any choice. North Korean government officials are highly paranoid and have no love for America. In fact, according to Newman, they are still pretty ticked off about the war over half a century ago.

Mr. Newman failed to understand that for the North Koreans the 1950-53 war against the United States had not finished, Mr. Chinoy writes. An armistice remains in place; a formal peace treaty has not been signed.

Newman’s story of his detention and confession explains why Warmbier would offer such a strange confession. He had to. What will happen next is unclear. While most Americans detained in North Korea have eventually been released, the country’s criminal laws are nothing like ours.

We don’t know a whole lot about the North Korean criminal justice system. It has been overhauled several times in the last few decades, but isn’t geared towards protecting the rights of the accused. Modeled after the Soviet legal system, its primary objective is to protect the socialist society in North Korea. North Korean laws are to be interpreted in line with the country’s political views. Combine that with the vague charge of “hostile acts” and the obviously coerced confession, and there is little chance of a fair trial.

Will there even be a trial? Probably not. Most Western detainees are eventually released, even if there is a trial and a sentence. Right now, there are only three Westerners being held in Korea. The rest have been released, usually shortly after their arrest.

More than likely, Warmbier will soon be returned home. North Korea has no formal diplomatic relations with the United States and is often suspected of orchestrating these detentions to force visits by American officials.

Then we may find out exactly what Warmbier did to end up in the crosshairs of the North Korean legal system. Either way, there is a valuable lesson here. Don’t play pranks in North Korea. They probably won’t think it’s funny.


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  • Alien
    11 March 2016 at 6:39 pm - Reply

    seems exactly the sort of thing the cia do, so I don’t understand your dismissive tone. What do you think the cia actually do?

    • Josh
      12 March 2016 at 8:43 am - Reply

      You tell me. Don’t just take up space. Make a point. Give me an example of the CIA doing something similar.