In the past, tourists have gained entry into North Korea, the world’s most isolated country, through travel agencies that are able to secure specially granted visas to visitors.
A number of those visitors were able to return safely after their journey to the dictator state. However, the recent arrest of an American college student should make future travellers even warier about entering the secluded, militarized country. Here are 6 things you need to know about the college student being held in North Korea:
1. On Friday, North Korea’s state-run media, the Korean Central News Agency, announced that they arrested 21-year-old Otto Frederick Warmbier for “perpetrating a hostile act against the DPRK” by disguising his plans and posing as a tourist working with “the tacit connivance of the U.S. government and under its manipulation.”
2. Warmbier, from Wyoming City,Ohio, is a third year economics undergraduate at the University of Virginia. He was in North Korea for a five-day trip when he was detained trying to depart from Pyongyang airport on January 2, according to Reuters.
3. Warmbier’s trip was organized by the China-based Young Pioneer Tours who confirmed the reports of his detainment in a press release:
“We can confirm that the reports that one of our clients is being detained in Pyongyang are true. Their family have been informed and we are in contact with the Swedish Embassy, (who act as the protecting interest for U.S citizens), who are working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to address the case. We are also assisting the U.S Department of State closely with regards to the situation.”
4. The U.S. State Department said in a statement that it was “aware of media reports that a U.S. citizen was detained in North Korea” but withheld details over concerns of privacy.
5. Warmbier graduated from high school in 2013 as a salutatorian, is currently an Echols Scholar at the University of Virginia and a talented soccer player. Jeremy Marcel, a professor at UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce, told the AP that Warmbier is “a very intelligent, wonderful young man.” A fellow Theta Chi fraternity brother, Miles Kirwin, described Warmbier as “an incredible guy.”
6. According to his Facebook profile, Warmbier has traveled to Cuba, Ireland and Israel before.
Warmbier isn’t the first American to be detained in the militant country. Former President Bill Clinton made a trip to the country to negotiate the release of journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling back in 2009. The two women were detained for allegedly entering the country without permission while filming a documentary along the North Korean border. Warmbier now joins Kim Dong Chul, a naturalized American who claims he previously lived in Fairfax, Virginia, who is currently incarcerated in North Korea.
Visitors who have entered North Korea have been able to shed some light about life in the isolated country. In August of last year a 26-year-old American designer traveled to North Korea and documented his trip on Instagram. Similarly, a Canadian couple shared photos of the week they spent in 2012 in the secretive military state after booking their tour via the state-owned Korean International Tourist company.