Parents of US student held in North Korea: 'We need to talk about Otto'

Dad of detained son approves of Trump's praise
Dad of detained son approves of Trump's praise

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Dad of detained son approves of Trump's praise 01:39

Story highlights

  • Otto Warmbier was arrested in January 2016
  • His parents tell CNN they haven't heard from him in over a year

(CNN)Cindy and Fred Warmbier haven't spoken to their son Otto in over a year.

He is trapped in North Korea, accused of committing hostile acts against the Kim Jong Un regime.
    They have had no word or indication about how he's doing since March 3, 2016, and they say that with tensions on the rise, it's now time to speak.
    "With tensions as high as they are, we felt that we needed to talk about Otto and put a face on the person," Cindy Warmbier said.
    Rhetoric between the US and North Korea has been heating up in recent weeks, after a number of North Korean missile tests and the deployment of US warships to the region.
    2016: US student held in North Korea speaks
    2016: US student held in North Korea speaks

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      2016: US student held in North Korea speaks

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    2016: US student held in North Korea speaks 02:13
    Amid calls to calm tensions -- not least from the Pope -- US President Donald Trump on Monday suggested he'd meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un but only "under the right circumstances."
    When asked about those comments, Fred Warmbier said he and his wife were encouraged by the President's willingness to sit down and improve the relationship with North Korea.
    "Anything he can do towards improving that, and also including Otto in the solution and making Otto part of the solution, I think is good for Otto and honestly I think is going to be good for our country," he said.
    N. Korea sentences U.S. student to 15 years hard labor
    N. Korea sentences U.S. student to 15 years hard labor

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      N. Korea sentences U.S. student to 15 years hard labor

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    N. Korea sentences U.S. student to 15 years hard labor 02:33
    Otto Warmbier, one of three Americans currently in detention in North Korea, was arrested in January 2016 while he was about to leave Pyongyang.
    His parents say their son, a 22-year-old student at the University of Virginia, had been on a tour of the country.
    North Korea charged him with committing a "hostile act" against the state, alleging he was encouraged to do so by a member of a church in his home state of Ohio, a secretive university organization and even the CIA.
    Americans detained in North Korea

    Currently detained:

    • Otto Warmbier, a student at the University of Virginia, was sentenced to 15 years hard labor in 2016 for removing a political sign
    • Kim Sang Duk, also known as Tony Kim, a university professor, was detained in Pyongyang in 2017 for reasons currently unknown
    • Kim Dong Chul, the president of a company involved in international trade and hotel services, was arrested in 2015 and is serving 10 years on espionage charges

    Americans released in 2014:

    • Kenneth Bae served nearly two years hard labor after accusations that he was part of a Christian plot to overthrow the regime
    • Matthew Todd Miller was also accused of "hostile acts" after tearing up his tourist visa and seeking asylum after entering North Korea
    • Jeffrey Fowle spent five months in a North Korean prison after being caught with a bible inside the country

    The proof was security footage showing him removing a political banner from a hotel.
    Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years' hard labor after the March 2016 trial, which reportedly lasted less than an hour.
    North Korea released a video of Otto asking for mercy after the sentencing, but his father says he can't watch it.
    "It hurts my spirit. My vision of Otto is before he left on this trip. We were in the TV room and my easy chair broke and I had to crawl underneath this dirty chair and next thing I know his head is next to mine, and we're looking at each other and we're smiling and there's love.
    "So when I look at this picture of Otto in handcuffs being forced to do these things, it's too painful ... I'm focused on the future and bringing Otto home," Fred Warmbier said.
    Detained Americans are often used as bargaining chips in negotiations with the United States. The two other Americans in custody are Kim Sang Duk -- also known as Tony Kim -- and Kim Dong Chul.
    Kim Sang Duk was detained earlier this year, while Kim Dong Chul says he was arrested in 2015.
    The Warmbiers hope that with a new President in the White House they'll be able to secure their son's release.
    "Our hope is that he's coming home. There seems to be a tension now placed on things that were ignored before, so I can't imagine this isn't good for our country, but more importantly, good for Otto," Cindy Warmbier said.
    "He's a 22-year-old college student who has never been in trouble. This seems to be bigger than anything he was accused of doing."