NEW YORK CITY (JTA) — The parents of Otto Warmbier, the American college student who was tortured while being held in a North Korean labor camp, filed a federal lawsuit in the United States against North Korea over their son’s death.
Warmbier, 22, a Cincinnati native, was traveling on a student tour of North Korea in early 2016 when he was arrested and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a propaganda poster. After international outrage and over a year of imprisonment, North Korea released Warmbier in June, saying his health had deteriorated after a bout of botulism. Warmbier’s doctors said he suffered extensive brain damage. He died on June 19, 2017, in Cincinnati.
The 22-page lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, alleges that Otto Warmbier was “brutally tortured and murdered” by Kim Jong Un’s “criminal” regime.
The lawsuit, filed on Thursday, comes as President Donald Trump prepares to meet with the North Korean leader late next month or in early June in order to effect “denuclearization” of the hostile country.
Trump has raised Warmbier’s death repeatedly in public statements in attempts to bring North Korea to the nuclear negotiating table.
The White House was aware the lawsuit would be filed and did nothing to discourage the Warmbiers from bringing it, NBC News reported, citing an unnamed source familiar with the case.
Fred Warmbier said in a statement that his son 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. 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.”
The lawsuit asks the court to determine a monetary award for punitive damages related to Otto Warmbier’s mistreatment and death, as well as the emotional suffering of his family.
The family had hidden Warmbier’s Jewishness during negotiations for his return. Warmbier, whose mother is Jewish, became active at the University of Virginia campus Hillel following a 2014 Birthright trip to Israel.