'Kim and his evil regime' responsible for Otto's death: Family

Otto Warmbier's family blasts Kim Jong Un after Trump praises North Korean leader during this week's summit in Vietnam.

    Otto Frederick Warmbier (C), a University of Virginia student who was arrested in North Korea, is taken to the top court in Pyongyang [File: Kyodo/Reuters]
    Otto Frederick Warmbier (C), a University of Virginia student who was arrested in North Korea, is taken to the top court in Pyongyang [File: Kyodo/Reuters]

    The parents of an American college student who died following months of detention in North Korea rebuked US President Donald Trump on Friday, saying Kim Jong Un "and his evil regime" are responsible for their son's death. 

    Trump drew criticism during this week's Trump-Kim summit in Vietnam after he praised Kim and said he accepted his claims that he was not aware of how Otto was treated in detention. 

    "He tells me that he didn't know about it, and I will take him at his word," Trump told reporters this week. He also praised Kim's leadership. 

    Fred and Cindy Warmbier, Otto's parents, pushed back in a statement on Friday, saying they had remained silent earlier this week while Trump and Kim met in Vietnam. 

    "Now we must speak out," they said. "Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son Otto," they added in a statement released by their lawyer.

    "Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity. No excuses or lavish praise can change that." 

    Signs of torture

    Warmbier, 22, was a student at the University of Virginia when he visited North Korea with a tour group. During his trip, he was arrested and sentenced to 15 years of hard labour in March 2016 on suspicion of stealing a propaganda poster.   

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    He died less than a year later on June 19, 2017, shortly after he returned to the US in a coma and showing apparent signs of torture while in custody. 

    The North claimed Warmbier fell into a coma soon after he was sentenced, saying he had contracted botulism and been given a sleeping pill. 

    However, medical tests carried out in the US offered no conclusive evidence as to the cause of his neurological injuries, and no evidence of a prior botulism infection. 

    Warmbier's doctors said he had suffered extensive tissue loss in all regions of his brain, but showed no signs of physical trauma. 

    They said Warmbier's severe brain injury was most likely - given his young age - caused by cardiopulmonary arrest cutting the blood supply to the brain. 

    'We can't be naive about what they did' 

    Prominent Republicans did not share Trump's acceptance of Kim's word, including US Senator Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally who said he didn't "buy it for a minute", and US Senator Rob Portman from Warmbier's home state of Ohio. 

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    "We can't be naive about what they did to Otto and about the brutal nature of the regime," Portman said in a Thursday speech on the Senate floor.  

    "It's not just about Otto or other visitors, it's about how the people of North Korea are treated." 

    On Friday, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told Fox News that Trump blames North Korea but not Kim. 

    "The president agrees with the Warmbier family and holds North Korea responsible for Otto Warmbier's death," Conway said.  

    "What he said was that Chairman Kim says, what he believes Chairman Kim to have said, was that he was not aware of what had happened to Otto Warmbier when it happened," she added. 

    SOURCE: News agencies