CCTV shows US student stealing propaganda North Korean banner from hotel wall

Krystal Johnson and agencies

CCTV video has emerged revealing the moment a US student stole a Kim Jong-il propaganda poster in 'the worst mistake of his life', resulting in a 15-year hard labour sentence in a prison camp.

North Korea's supreme court sentenced Otto Warmbier on Wednesday to 15 years of hard labor for crimes against the state, in a punishment Washington condemned as politically motivated.

The vision was released by North Korea's state news agency and shows Warmbier stealing the glorified banner.

Otto Warmbier cries at court in Pyongyang after finding out he would be sentenced to 15 years of hard labour in N. Korea. Photo: REUTERS

In the video, Warmbier can be seen entering the restricted area of the hotel in the early hours of January 1 as he reaches up and takes the banner off a wall.

The court also revealed images on a flat screen showing efforts to match fingerprints from the banner with Warmbier's fingerprints and sentencing documents with red ink on his thumb.

The 21-year-old University was at the end of a five-day tourist New Year's group tour of North Korea when he was delayed at airport immigration before being taken away by officials.

Here, Warmbier was detained for trying to steal an item bearing a propaganda slogan from his hotel in Pyongyang appearing to bear a slogan extolling the country's late leader.

Although the name was censored in the photograph, it is likely the slogan read: "Let's arm ourselves strongly with Kim Jong Il patriotism!"

This is the banner that Otto stole from a North Korean hotel wall bearing the phrase 'Kim Jong Il patriotism'. Photo: REUTERS
The glorified slogan has been described by his son and successor, Kim Jong Un, as the

This phrase was used heavily to glorify the late leader after he died in 2011.

The slogan has been described by his son and successor, Kim Jong Un, as the "crystallisation of socialist patriotism".

Ordinary North Koreans are required to keep and carefully maintain portraits of former leaders Kim Jong Il and his father, Kim Il Sung.

Warmbier told media said his crime was "very severe and pre-planned."

The witness to Warmbier's crime was his North Korean tour guide, identified as Mr Byon.

"When I got off work, there was nothing amiss," a second witness, apparently a hotel staff member, told the court.

"But when I returned, I thought someone had deliberately taken the slogan down, so I mobilised security to prevent damage to it and reported it to the authorities."

Otto Warmbier was caught out by his North Korean tour guide, identified as Mr Byon. Photo: REUTERS
Warmbier was at the end of a five-day group tour when he was stopped at the airport and detained. Photo: REUTERS
Otto Warmbier cries as he speaks to a judge in North Korea's highest court on Wednesday, the day he was sentenced. Photo: REUTERS

The US State Department called the sentence "unduly harsh" and White House spokesman Josh Earnest said it was "increasingly clear" that North Korea sought to use American citizens as pawns to pursue a political agenda.

"The accused confessed to the serious offense against the DPRK he had committed, pursuant to the US government's hostile policy toward it, in a bid to impair the unity of its people after entering it as a tourist," the state-controlled KCNA news agency reported, using the acronym for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Human Rights Watch also condemned the sentence.

"North Korea's sentencing of Otto Warmbier to 15 years hard labor for a college-style prank is outrageous and shocking, and should not be permitted to stand," Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW's Asia division, said in an emailed statement.

Warmbier's defense attorney said the gravity of his crime was such that he would not be able to pay even with his death but proposed to the court a sentence reduced from the prosecution's request of a life sentence, KCNA said.

Warmbier's sentencing comes as North Korea is increasingly isolated over its nuclear weapons program.

This month the UN Security Council imposed tough new resolutions month following a North Korea nuclear test in January and a long-range rocket launch last month.

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