North Korea denies torturing US student Warmbier

Medical personnel and visitors at a transport plane carrying Otto Warmbier. (John Minchillo, AP)
Medical personnel and visitors at a transport plane carrying Otto Warmbier. (John Minchillo, AP)

Seoul - North Korea on Friday denied it cruelly treated or tortured an American student who was detained for more than year and died days after being released in a coma.

The article published by the official Korean Central News Agency was Pyongyang's first reaction to Otto Warmbier's death in a US hospital on Monday after North Korea released him for what it said was humanitarian reasons.

Doctors there said Warmbier had suffered a severe neurological injury from an unknown cause. Relatives say they were told the 22-year-old University of Virginia student had been in a coma since shortly after he was sentenced to prison in North Korea in March 2016.

His family and others have blamed North Korea for his condition.

He was serving a sentence of hard labour after being accused of stealing a propaganda poster. KCNA said the North dealt with Warmbier according to domestic law and international standards.

The article also criticised South Korea for using Warmbier's case to seek the release of other detainees, including six South Korean nationals. Three Americans also remain in custody in the North.

"Our related institutions are treating criminals who committed crimes against [our] republic strictly based on domestic law and international standards, and Warmbier was no different," the KCNA said.

The agency accused Seoul of tarnishing Pyongyang's image with its "slanderous talk about cruel treatment and torture" while having no knowledge of the "humanitarian" treatment Warmbier received in the North.

The agency didn't provide further details on how Warmbier was treated under detention or what might have caused him to lapse into a coma.

The United States, South Korea and others often accuse North Korea of using foreign detainees to wrest diplomatic concessions.

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