SEOUL, March 16 (UPI) -- The North Korean government on Wednesday sentenced Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student, to 15 years of hard labor less than a month after he made his first public appearance before cameras in Pyongyang.
Authorities detained the 21-year-old college student Jan. 2 as he was preparing to leave the country at the end of a tour. At the main airport in Pyongyang, officials took him to a room for questioning, and his group was later told Warmbier had been taken to a hospital.
On Jan. 22, North Korea announced Warmbier had been arrested for "hostile acts."
In late February, a crying Warmbier made a plea before reporters in Pyongyang, and said he had "committed the crime of taking down a political slogan from the staff holding area of the Yanggakdo International Hotel," where he was staying at the time, along with fellow travelers on a trip organized by Young Pioneer Tours, based in China.
According to his confession, which he read from a prepared script in front of North Korean state officials, Warmbier said the "crime" he committed was planned ahead with support from a church in Ohio, a secretive university organization and the Central Intelligence Agency.
It is highly likely Warmbier made the statement under duress. Past detainees have said they were forced to confess to what Pyongyang considers state crimes.
Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is working toward obtaining Warmbier's release through unofficial diplomatic channels and met with two North Korean diplomats Tuesday.
Richardson is also the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.